Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time watching other people exercise. It started with the London Marathon. It was the first burning hot day of the year, so we decided to take the kids to Tower Hill in order to soak-up the occasion. I’ve always had a soft spot for the London Marathon ever since I dragged myself round the course in 2003. Say what you like about the provincial petit bourgeoisie, but we’re bloody good at showing up in London mob-handed and putting ourselves through excruciating discomfort for a good cause and some fleeting social capital.
Standing in the packed crowd, cheering the runners on, I felt a slight pang of guilt. Should that be me out there, I thought? Should I be in trainers and shorts, drenched in sweat, with a face like somebody having a Tabasco colonic? I glanced around me, at the spectators with their big smiles and sun hats and cans of Strongbow Dark Fruit cider, and decided that, no, it’s probably best that I’m on this side of the fence.
But then, not long after, some pals did a sponsored swimathon. I bunged them some cash but felt deeply jealous. It’s not that I can swim particularly well — I cut through the water with the grace of a shortsighted manatee — but it was the glory I envied. The acclaim! The Facebook photos of me looking tired but victorious! Also, actually doing the swim would’ve cost me a good deal less in sponsorship handouts. I gritted my teeth and congratulated them all.
The killer, though, was the recent Hackney Half Marathon. Again, we went down to cheer on our friends. It was unbearable. All these fit-looking boys and girls lapping up the applause and reaching out to hi-five my infant daughter — my own daughter! — an act that made her so happy I could barely function with rage. That should be me! That should be me out there, hi-fiving other people’s kids and applauding the crowd for their support, like a legend.
Afterwards, I went for a pint with the mates who had just completed it. They all had their medals on and a faint, angelic radiance about them. And what did I have? Nothing but a Strongbow Dark Fruit paunch. You never realise you’ve become a spectator until it’s too late. But all is not lost. I’ve just bought a new pair of running shoes. Training starts next week.