I’ve become a little too obsessed with running lately. I watched the recent Indoor Athletics Championships with the same concentration and joy that I usually reserve for football. I was genuinely excited by the pole vault and the performance of another large Pole in the 4x400m relay. The regular disqualifications spoiled it, but for me at least, the staged entrances – athletes’ names in size 15,000 font above their heads, enormous sparklers – nearly made up for that. It was almost as bombastic as the WWF wrestling I remember from the 1990s.
But, even so, all the forced glamour can’t quite remove the perception that it’s just really good PE on the telly. When I was at school, I was dreadful at PE, and so it’s been quite a thrill 20 years later to run reasonably well. I was going to say that I like the steady progress and clarity of results, though the Indoor Athletics Championships were, as I said, spoiled by disqualifications: people running the race of their lives, celebrating in front of millions with their name in giant letters, only for that happiness to be over-ruled by an invisible panel identifying a tiny accidental violation of a tiny rule.
With poetry competitions, I’m used to a judgement being made by people I will never meet, resigned to disappointment as soon as the work is sent and the amount is paid. What are the rules? Why are so many writers disqualified? At least at ‘fun run’ level, away from the panels and their expensive equipment, running is a pure meritocracy: you’re 1st or 6th or 50th or whatever and there’s no debate. Through talent and a few sacrifices, you can run with the elite. It’s like being published in a Faber anthology with Larkin and Armitage!
So, if like me, you have a vast ego and like to imagine your name being projected to a size larger than your actual self, go for a run and see where it takes you.