Pleasure and pain

I’m in the minority from the outset – I enjoy running, in fact I love it, and there are only two reasons I don’t do it more often:

Firstly I don’t believe it is a great exercise to take you into your eighties (yes I mean to get there in good health) – it is too hard on your body, and cycling or swimming is better overall in terms of keeping condition and your body able.

Secondly I carry some injuries which mean training has to be limited or my ankles will give way and it may not be just running I need to give up.

So equipped with those good reasons I entered the NY Marathon – fully having done fewer than 10 runs in the last 10 years!

4 runs later and I can already feel the ‘kick’. I go somewhere else both during and after a run.

Except, here in Antwerp, and I expect in any large city, I can’t go somewhere else far enough away from what I have to observe in the dusk or dawn of the day.

The homeless, the alcoholics, the druggies and those just thoroughly hung over from not having made it home last night.

So what is bliss for me, a privilege and a blessing, and what used to always be a private space has now become something different. Tragic, yes. Challenging, yes. Worse? ‘Just’ different.

At this stage I don’t know what the end result will be – not of the running – the observation, the reflection that my life is pretty easy and relative to these people it is unbelievably amazing.

I know I can’t run past them and pretend they are not there or cut them out of my life, I know also that there are no simple or single answers, I know that at present the answer, the only answer I have, is to do what I do, to be a good citizen, raise good children and console myself that there is little else I can do.

But is there? Is there more I can do? Everything has it’s price.

When you can smell alcohol from 6 metres away, when you see people sleeping on their haunches tucked in the rhododendrons, sleeping on benches under a survival blanket, sleeping on the landing of a children’s playground fort, when you get the sour whiff of human faeces from the bushes; and the world diamond trading centre is less than 500 metres away, and the Antwerp Police station is next to the park…

Well, I just know I won’t stop wondering, and like the legless, armless cripple I saw in Paris 6 years ago, I’ll never forget.

Running towards the NYC marathon will also mean running into something I have always run away from and it’s nothing to do with exercise. And no amount of training will either prepare me for or get me through this issue. The marathon is personal, the other matters are something we all share.

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