Crowded Solitude No Place For New Year’s Resolve

[Published in the NEWS REVIEW section of The Sydney Morning Herald, January 09/2016]

Around a year ago, I took up running. Most mornings, around seven o’clock, I’d rise and don the appropriate footwear, shorts and a t-shirt, and I’d head out, do a few stretches then jog my way down the road, do a few laps of the local oval, jog back. Nothing too intense, just some early morning cardio to justify the smoking and drinking that accompanies my profession like the smell of damp undergrowth does a tropical summer storm.

The timing for this burst of exercise was purely coincidental. The fact it was early January had little to do with it, far less so than my rapidly expanding mid-section, far too used to the relatively small amount of exercise I’d been doing previously; as was gently pointed out to me by my better half, I needed to step it up somewhat, and so I started running. I hate it and am not a natural runner, but I began none the less.

I kept at it too, which is something of which I’m reasonably proud, and so this protuberance I’d been carrying around gradually shrank. Or at least, for the most part, didn’t get any bigger.

So here I am now, a year or so later, and I rise early and head out for the first run of the year, looking to get the heart-rate up and begin to shed some of the excess that has accumulated over the festive season. It’s a cool morning, rain on the horizon, but light and brisk, birdsong etc. It’s a lovely time of day, solitary and still, which is what I need in order to keep this momentum going – it won’t work if there are multiple spectators.

But here’s something I’d forgotten from when I first began last January. It’s January. People are fresh off boozy New Year celebrations, weeks (perhaps months) of eating and drinking and making merry. They’re bloated and fat, over-ripe and ready to pop. And so they think to themselves, ‘I need to get some exercise happening, my New Year resolution, I will get slim, I will exercise daily’.

And so, as I set out on my first run of the year, a hoary old veteran of such sweat-stained dealings, I have an audience. Multiple walkers and runners, around every bend, every turn in the path, as I emerge from the bush track into the wide open spaces afforded by the cricket oval, there are people everywhere, undertaking some form of January-induced exercise, sweating and wheezing in my previously quiet and solitary morn.

‘What fresh hell is this?’, I mutter to myself in a fit of self-righteous pique, albeit a slightly out of breath one. ‘Where have these people come from and how dare they encroach upon my carefully choreographed morning custom’. I carry on however, side-stepping middle-aged men with fat and droopy dogs in tow, finish my course and head, dripping with outraged sweat, for the shower.

Of course, I have no right to be grumpy; these roads and paths are as much anyone else’s as they are mine. As well, the early hour, before the world properly wakes up, belongs as much to a well-intentioned first-time dog walker as it does to anyone who’s risen early these 12 months past. Or longer, for that matter.

I have no ill will toward anyone wanting to better themselves, and I certainly don’t hold myself in higher esteem merely because I stuck with something (to be honest, the main reason I didn’t stop running, is because of how much I do like to drink and smoke…). I do like my solitude and space however, particularly when engaging in an exercise I utterly abhor and so don’t want anyone to witness.

Oh my quiet paths, my empty oval, the birdsong sung just for me. How I yearn for you, even after only a day. Go to the gym you lot, leave me to my hobbled jogging, my fractured running, my uneven-gaited perambulations. I admire your intentions, I doff my cap to your will power and I salute your resolve. Just do it somewhere else and leave me to stagger around in peace, trying to keep my gut in check, lifting the heart-rate and shedding the excess in my own, solitary way.

Samuel J. Fell

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