The Olympian exudes an unattainable coolth with perfect poise and a worn-out T-shirt, or none, if you’re Milind Soman!  (Parth Garg)
The Olympian exudes an unattainable coolth with perfect poise and a worn-out T-shirt, or none, if you’re Milind Soman!  (Parth Garg)

Humour: The five kinds of runners

From form snobs to statistic addicts, the streets are just packed with all types of runners come morning or evening
By Rehana Munir
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 10:16 AM IST

We’re still in the early days of the new year, with most of our good intentions and noble ambitions still intact. Chief among these is the promise to become paragons of physical fitness, avoiding viruses like they’re the elaichi in a biryani, while exhibiting the suppleness of roomali roti dough. I, too, have a dream. I aspire to the form and resolve of the runners I encounter on my humble morning walk, classified here into five categories. Because if you can’t beat or join them, label them.

The Olympian

Perfect poise. A worn-out T-shirt. (Or none, if you’re Milind Soman.) And achingly attractive calves. This species exudes an unattainable coolth that, when glimpsed by lesser mortals, makes them reassess their entire lives. They look calmly into the middle distance at a swiftly arriving future, which holds no fear for them, for they are the Chosen Ones. They glisten, while others merely sweat. They have no use for music or mates – they prefer to go it alone. This category has a heightened awareness of its effect on the plebs running around them – their primary motivation as they get out of bed and hit the road in that supremely self-assured manner. Not a hair out of place, step out of rhythm or moment out of breath, everything the sun touches is their kingdom.

The socialite

This tribe is a personal favourite. Their self-image as runners is as flattering as an Insta filter. They smile, wave and air kiss, and often stop to get the music just right on their phones. They are frequently seen with running mates, discussing pressing issues from WhatsApp vs Telegram vs Signal, to the imminent Spring-Summer collection of pandemic masks.

Some bestow their attention on the scenery, like a passing bird, a crashing wave or vibrating earth mover, drinking in their surroundings like they soon will a kale-pomegranate-avocado concoction in their post-run ritual with besties returning from cycling trips.

The numberist

Every Breath You Take/Every Move You Make – sang The Police in the unencumbered ’80s. It could well be the anthem for fitness-tracking watches in our hyper-attentive age. Our statistically-inclined hero soldiers on, their stalker-like watch recording every intimate detail from the number of footsteps in a day to sleep quality in the night. This mismatched fight between the human and the machine is obvious to fellow runners; very often, they wish to scream out: “Throw away that blasted watch!” Instead, they look at the data-oppressed athlete with a mixture of “pity and fear”, words Aristotle used to describe “the pleasures of tragedy”.

The supporter

A compulsively helpful breed, they will alert you to an untied shoelace or an approaching bulldozer, no matter how obvious both facts might be to you. They will correct your form and prescribe better practices, seemingly undeterred by the fact that you’re absolute strangers. Given a bit of rope, this category can volunteer their experience in allied areas, like efficient warm-up exercises and comfier tracksuits. It can all be a bit weird until you realise that runners who share the same turf form a community of sorts, and one that’s especially close-knit in these socially distant times. Seeing the same faces every morning is admittedly heartening in an era when those you encountered at the pub every evening are altogether absent from your life.

The beginner

At the bottom of the pecking order lies this pitiable category, trying to huff and puff its way to some kind of running rhythm. We make valiant attempts at breaking into the runners’ club, but with laughable results. It’s unnerving to look at an Olympian or even a Socialite without getting sucked into a vortex of perplexing questions: Does it look like I’m actually running? Are my shoes too white? Why is there no sweat? The truth is, running is liberating in that over-described, cliché-ridden way, so I won’t belabour the point. But what seems like an unremarkable activity requires more skill and strategy than the Nike slogan might suggest. Meanwhile, I’ve identified an Olympian on my morning route who, I feel, would make the perfect instructor plus running mate. Time to channel my inner Socialite and make my move.

From HT Brunch, January 24, 2021

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