We hadn’t spent all day at her home. We’d been out at lunchtime to a local delicatessen that offered sit-in facilities for meals. It was only a small place and its tiled floor, part-tiled walls and large window meant that the clattering of cutlery and crockery was greatly magnified and rather unpleasant. We both chose salads which were nicely presented and tasty. Even over lunch, we continued talking about the project and we were both really enthused. It hadn’t all been as serious as it sounds. We’d both had a laugh as we talked. She was a pleasure to work with.
When it got to four in the afternoon, and we called it a day, the time had seemed to go nowhere. Before I left, Susie told me not to worry so much and to try to relax. She was going to have a night-out in Manchester with some girls she knew from Parkrun – all divorcees. She was looking forward to it because they always had a good laugh about their experiences on dating sites. I considered what my night-in was going to be like. I’d probably watch a film if I could find a suitable one to stream.
I knew that I wouldn’t be doing anything else, so I phoned Susie on the Wednesday of that week to let her know that I’d meet her at the Parkrun place if she wouldn’t mind giving me directions. She seemed pleased that I’d heeded her suggestion. I told her that I’d go the whole hog, get some advice from the sports shop and try my best to avoid looking like a total plonker. I said that I couldn’t guarantee that I’d make it all the way around jogging: I’d probably mix it in with walking if I got tired. One of the geriatrics there might need to support me to the finish line. I told her that she needn’t wait for me – an ambulance might be needed to collect me and it was all her fault.
Susie had explained that, if I intended doing the weekly run on a regular basis, I should register online and get a barcode so that my timings and position would be included in the weekly online report. I’d also be able to do Parkruns anywhere else in the country. I registered that night, printed my barcode and laminated it.
The following morning, full of good intentions, I caught a bus and visited the local sportswear shop. After spending a few minutes looking round at the bewildering range available, I spoke to a young woman at the desk, who didn’t seem very busy other than shuffling paper and chatting to colleagues. I explained what I wanted in general terms, explained that I didn’t want to look stupid by turning up in something that would be inappropriate to my age, yet wasn’t end-of-line stock that would look dated in just a few weeks.
She looked at me and laughed.
“Is there someone you want to impress there?” she asked, barely suppressing her laughter, “a date perhaps?”
I must have blushed as it registered with me that, at some level, perhaps that’s what I’d been concerned about. I didn’t answer except to ask her to lead the way.
She laughed – she clearly guessed.
I left the store, having tried on different combinations of stuff in the fitting room, with heavy shopping bags and a load of expenditure on my credit card. As I travelled home, I considered what the store assistant had advised about not turning up with all the stuff looking pristine and with labels hanging out. I decided that I’d better do some training before I arrived on Saturday – partly to see how fit I’d be to jog 5k and partly to wear-in my new kit. I dressed in my new gear, got in the car hoping that my neighbours weren’t watching, and drove to the local park. On my first attempt I managed to keep going for 35 minutes, guessing what 5k meant in that park, and hoped that a timing like that wouldn’t be an utter embarrassment.
I turned-up at the park in Altrincham on the Saturday with my outfit used, washed and with no labels showing. My trainers were now scuffed enough not to look obviously new. I’d managed to find a parking space fairly close, though there were more people arriving than I’d expected. The sky was almost clear apart from some light high cloud and the criss-crossing of aircraft condensation trails.
I eventually saw Susie with a group of about a dozen friends near the bandstand and went across to join them. Most of them were women and there was a range of age groups represented. Susie smiled at me, told me that she was impressed that I’d made it, and introduced me to the other people who were with her. I saw eyebrows raised on the faces of some of the younger women as they looked from me to Susie – I suppose they were trying to assess our relationship. Whatever they thought, I was made to feel welcome. They wanted to know if I was from a different Parkrun group and, when I explained that I was new to the idea, they were encouraging – telling me not to worry about my time. Afterwards they’d all be meeting at the bandstand as a rendezvous point to have a cup of tea and a chat before they left for home.
All around us, people were arriving, jogging slowly, doing stretch exercises or talking in small groups. At the bandstand I could see marshals preparing to leave, to go the points where they’d be directing runners at various points. Some people were bringing containers of biscuits and cakes as donations towards the refreshments to be offered later.
At one point, shortly before the start, I had to leave the group to join other new runners while a marshal talked us through the route we were to follow. Once I’d re-joined Susie’s group, they showed me where to leave my fleece at the bandstand when the summons came to gather at the start point.
The noise level of chatter increased considerably as all the small groups and individuals came together, some jostling for position. I saw Susie, walking slightly ahead of me with one of the other women and a young man. She looked even slimmer in her running kit and had her hair swept up into a ponytail which peeped through the baseball cap she was wearing. I noticed, for the first time her narrow waist and long slim legs. I remembered, Helen’s comments about Susie – how pretty she was; that Susie had seemed to Helen to fancy me. But I also remembered what Susie had said about her nights out with the girls, discussing their experiences on dating sites. I saw, for the first time really, how lovely Susie looked, how sexy in her running gear. I remembered my reaction when the girl in the shop had asked whether I was out to impress a date. It was weird: I’d never really found red hair attractive, but increasingly I was finding that I’d only be dragging my eyes away from Susie reluctantly.
‘What the Hell was I thinking of?’ I asked myself. Helen had clearly been mistaken. Susie was obviously dating other men. She was younger than I was; very attractive, and just being her normal friendly self with me. In any case, I was only weeks out of a marriage. Why on earth would Susie want to get involved with a rebound romance. Again, what would I have to offer anyway: I was jobless, what savings I had left could be taken away by legal costs and I could even lose the house.
‘Get real,’ I told myself as the run began.
Susie was soon out of sight and I didn’t even try to catch up with her. It was amazing seeing so many people doing the run. I was clearly close to the back of the runners. There were even people who were clearly overweight passing me – even if they were sweating heavily as they wobbled ahead. At least I eventually lapped some of the people who were just walking, but I’d been lapped a couple of times by the faster participants. Towards the end of my run, Susie lapped me too. As she passed, she patted me on the shoulder and said, “You’re doing well. Keep going,” before leaving me behind again. I noted that the same young man was jogging alongside her. Her elbows pumped rhythmically as her knees rose and fell, her lithe legs scissored and propelled her further ahead. The soles of her feet lifted, apparently effortlessly, with each step.
I finished, out of breath, hot – even in the day’s low temperature – and sweating profusely. People in Susie’s group clapped me on the back. My time had been just more than thirty minutes –The leaders had finished in less than twenty minutes. Susie hadn’t been far behind them. She still looked as fresh as a daisy. She insisted that I do some warm-down stretches and showed me what to do. She then grabbed a cup of tea for me, as I donned my fleece, then asked how I felt after the exercise. She told me that, together with some of the others, they trained a couple of nights a week in the park and that I’d be welcome to join them. The others echoed the invitation and I agreed to meet them next time they trained.
By the time I got back in the car to return home, I’d cooled down and needed the heater on.
Today my featured photo was taken in Newcastle upon Tyne during the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018. The image shows the Sage Building as seen from below the Tyne Bridge
The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K50 16 MM cropped sensor camera with the kit lens (18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6) @ 18 mm and f/8. Shutter speed was 1/100 secs @ f/16 and the ISO 100. The shot was handheld and post processed in Lightroom Classic.