When I was growing up in Wakefield, running was for off-season rugby players. When I was growing up a little more in Leeds, running was also for middle-class thirty- to fortysomethings, suddenly aware that their bodies might go soft and amorphous without a bit of care. But when I finally took the plunge and decided to sacrifice myself on the altar of moisture-wicking fabrics, I became aware of a whole new breed: the unexpected runner.
When I say “unexpected”, I’m trying to be delicate. I make my living writing about video games and I held on to a weekend job at a comic shop for seven years just because I liked it. The result (or cause) of this is that most of the people I know are nerds of one stripe or another. And still I was surprised by the number of geeks I stumbled across, once I was paying attention, who are quietly, unexpectedly runners. Dungeons & Dragons players, hardcore gamers, genre and comics writers. Whole swaths of the population who you may have presumed to be busy doing things that involve thinking and sitting down are quietly nipping out at strange hours to do unexpected running.
There are a couple of ways you can slice this seemingly odd collision of running and nerd culture. One is that if two million or so people in the UK run, then presumably some of them are going to be a bit nerdy. I don’t have hard statistical evidence with which to carve up the demographics, but if something is popular, then there’s no reason it can’t be popular with the geekier cross-sections of our society. But I’ve heard that football is pretty popular too, and experience tells me that the number of regular, active footballers in my geekier circles is comparatively minuscule.
An undeniable factor in drawing unexpected runners out of the door is the convenience that prompts people from all corners of society to lace up their trainers. If you’re not naturally inclined towards exerting yourself but acknowledge that it’s a good way to keep your body from conking out early, then running is about as efficient a way to get it over and done with as you’re likely to find. It’s cheap, it bends around your schedule and has a high impact/time ratio. For many nerds, this is appealing. Competition is entirely optional, too. For most runners, even organised races are more about beating personal goals in a structured environment.