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Living and running in the Scottish Borders means that you become very familiar with several things. Weather is the obvious one – this year has been characterised by wind, week after week after week. And virtually no snow. The one advantage of proper snow is that you don’t have to carry water with you as there is a ready supply of it. As long as you stick to the white stuff.
And there’s nature of course. You see the seasons unfolding on a regular basis, and not only in the form of how many layers you need to wear for a given run. Last week, I was running along the main road on my way back home again when I saw a movement to my right, big enough to catch my attention. I’m used to dogs barking and running along beside me for a few minutes and there are more than enough sheep and cows which seem to think a runner is either a mortal threat or an invitation to a staring contest. Goodness knows what they make of me running past them. This time, though, it was two deer. They were kind enough to run in the same direction as me for a minute or two rather than bolting off in the opposite direction, although I’m fairly sure I was more fascinated by watching them than they were with me. But I can at least now say I’ve spent time running with deer.
And then there’s the humans. There are precious few runners that I have any contact with on my weekly long runs through the countryside. So much so that I came home a few weeks ago abnormally excited at having seen someone else out running near West Linton. It was such an event for us both that we high fived each other as we passed by. I think he was going faster than me, but my excuse is that it was a hill and I was going up it. Cyclists are also a sociable bunch, not only because so many of them are riding in a group, including some where I lost count of how many were together. They are also great at saying hello, including one who was riding up Arthur’s Seat a few weeks ago. I was doing hill repeats (again!) and we had a brief conversation on the way up. I was unofficially using him as someone to try to beat, then I saw he was on a single speed bike and that was enough to get me chatting with him until my breath gave way towards the top and he went sailing off with a wave into he headwind that had just hit us both but seemed to make more of a difference to me.
Car drivers are hilarious creatures. There are several categories I’ve identified from the perspective of a runner.
1. Drivers of tiny cars who could pass me by three abreast but who still slow down, sometimes to a stop, on a wide empty road. Just in case. I find them a bit scary because I’m not sure their driving is going to be that predictable if they can’t get past me with any confidence. But I’d rather have them than
2. Drivers whose sole aim is to get past me without lifting their foot off the accelerator. I did wonder if they were concerned about the environmental impact of slowing down and then accelerating again, but have now concluded that this is probably not their motive in going past me as fast as possible.
3. The ones who think their car is as wide as those in category 1, or just don’t care that it isn’t, and who leave me just enough room not to be hit by a wing mirror, but no more. The feeling of the wind from the passing bodywork is something no runner should have to experience. A slight swerve at the last second as the driver notices that there’s someone else on the road is often a part of this experience.
4. The more extreme version of 3 is the driver who decides to overtake a car while going past me. Generally, this only happens when the cars are coming from behind me, so I get an unpleasant shock when a car is suddenly coming past me that I (obviously – I don’t have a rear view mirror) didn’t see coming.
5. And my favourite is the driver who is clearly of the view that I have absolutely no right to be on the road at all and makes this clear by all means available. My most memorable two were a Volvo driver who started flashing his lights at me about half a mile away, then aimed his car right at me before swerving at the last second (I was within a split second of jumping into the hedgerow) and narrowly passing me with his arms gesticulating wildly. I wondered what the children in the back thought of Daddy’s behaviour. And a couple of months ago, the Range Rover who also thought that flashing lights and arm waving on an empty, straight stretch of road were a positive contribution to road safety and generally being a decent human being. The funny thing was that I knew who he was (in my running gear, I doubt the opposite was true). Thanks, Bill B…
6. The considerate drivers who pull over enough, and early enough, that I know they’re going to pass me without incident. I will often give them a wave of thanks, although probably not not if I’m going flat out and just keeping going is as much as I can manage.
7. Lorry drivers. I love lorry drivers. They will pull right over if they can, slow down if they have to, even stop if necessary, which is a very rare occurrence because, given how considerate they are and the fact that they are driving something so huge, I try to get to the other side of the road well before they get anywhere near me so they can keep going.
8. My lovely neighbours. I always get a flash of lights, children waving enthusiastically, and a boost for the next few minutes. It’s about as good as suddenly and unexpectedly seeing someone you know cheering you on at about mile 20 of a marathon.
And I just keep on running. Because I might end up running with some deer next time I round a corner. Now if I could time running with a solar eclipse, that would be something…