Nothing can stop Ultra Runner Man!
This newsletter was originally published on Patreon on 8 March 2021
I got to use my ultra running powers today.
It all started when I was driving my son to school - the kids were back at school, lockdown was easing, the sun was out, the snowdrops were poking their noses through the hedgerows … it was a wonderful, auspicious morning.
On the way there we drove past my usual - pre-lockdown - parking spot for my morning runs, the car park to some twee shops that has been closed for months. The gates were open. “Great,” I thought. “I can run from there.” Normality was returning, the world was reopening. Etc etc.
After dropping off my son I pulled in to the car park, pulled on my trail shoes, my running gloves and off I went. Ah, it was a joyous run. The legs felt strong, and the pace felt easy as I crunched happily through the frost-coated grass along by the River Dart.
But when I finished my run and got back to my car, I found that someone had padlocked shut the carpark gates. On the gate was a small sign saying the car park would only be open from 8:45am to 9:15am for parents to drop off their kids at the school opposite (not my son’s school).
Oh boy. Well, for a start, how was I supposed to see that sign - written in very small font - while driving through the gate - which was open so the sign wouldn’t have even been facing me? Secondly, I had double checked the signs in the car park before I set out on my run just to see if the usual policy of free parking for the first two hours still applied - things were constantly changing, so I had better be sure, I had thought. But it was still the same sign - no mention of the car park being padlocked shut at 9:15am. That’s where they needed a sign, not on a gate which opens so wide the sign isn’t even facing the cars driving in.
I walked around the nearby shops but they were all shut and there was no sign of anyone except a befuddled teenager in fogged-up glasses who said it was his first day and he didn’t know anything about the car park. I tried calling the car park phone number, the school across the road, the car park security firm. Nobody answered. By now I was borderline irate. Steam was starting to come out of my ears. What were they trying to protect anyway? It was just a car park. It didn’t need to be locked.
I had to get home and write this newsletter. I was now stomping around looking for someone to give a piece of my mind to. I even tried picking the lock - it was a combination lock so I tried a few obvious combinations - 1234 and 1111 for instance. But no joy. I could feel myself simmering with rage, the joy of my run long since trampled into the petty dirt.
Then for some reason I remembered a question I had been asked in a podcast interview a few days ago. I’d been talking about how ultra running teaches you to be more resilient, and the guy asked me: “Do you get to bring that into your normal life too? Do you find that you’re now more resilient in everyday life?”
“Yes, well, at least initially,” I said, remembering how I used to walk around in those days when I was running lots of ultra marathons feeling calmly invincible, feeling that petty problems, trivial issues, could barely touch me. “But it does wear off,” I said, struggling to remember the last time I had felt like that.
I thought back to my incident at the airport in Oman, where, for those who don’t remember, I argued furiously when I was informed of a seven-hour delay before the bus would collect us, while my fellow, more experienced ultra runners simply took the news in their stride and bedded down on the airport floor for some kip.
Well, here I was facing a little setback in my everyday life. How was I reacting? How would an ultra runner react? I took a deep breath, and with a clear head, I reassessed the situation. Here I was, in my running gear, on a beautiful day, five kilometres from home. I was a goddam ultra runner. I didn’t need to fret. The solution was staring me in the face. I could run home.
Sure, I’d just finished my scheduled run, but what was another 5km to an ultra runner? Sure, I’d have to run back later when the gates reopened for school pickup. But what was yet another 5km to an ultra runner? In fact, it was a chance to get in some added training. Some extra miles. It was bonus training, as Zach Miller might say.
So, I donned my ultra running cape (well, I took off my jacket and put it in the car) and I trundled home in not much more time than it would have taken to drive, feeling untouchable like Ultra Runner Man. Nothing could stop Ultra Runner Man!
The anger eased, and by the time I got home and told Marietta the story, and she said: “What a nightmare!” I realised it wasn’t a nightmare at all. It was all fine.
It’s rare that running powers are actually useful in life - apart from just generally being healthy, of course - so it felt great to be able to utilise mine to get around a tricky situation.
The only hitch to my almost flawless resolution, was that I left my glasses in the car. So do forgive me if this newsletter is littered with typos, as I can barely see what I’m writing.