Today I went out for my first run of the new year, just a simple 5K along the Portway. Along with the general jogging population were a few newbie runners.
It’s always good to see new runners, and this week — the week of New Year’s Resolutions — is the most common time to spot them. I guess people are doing lots of new things, this week. When I was a regular in a Wado Ryu dojo, the number of beginners in January was only surpassed by those weeks where The Karate Kid had been on telly.
“Spot the new runner” is a fairly easy game. Most people don’t want to buy new gear for something they might find out they hate, so there’s a lot of almost-but-not-quite clothing around. Old fashion trainers rather than running shoes. Football tops. Shorts that just aren’t very… runnery, I suppose.
The more determined and well-off beginner might have popped out and bought all-new gear, so they’ll be shiny from their sports sunglasses to their Asics-tipped toes, crisp and clean.
But, old gear or new gear, there’s often the telltale beginner expression on the face. The “I can’t quite believe I’m doing this” look. The “I hope nobody I know drives past” look, sometimes, too. Though I hope I’m subtle enough in my spot-the-new-runner games to avoid triggering the “why is that weird bloke staring at me?” look…
It takes a while to look like a runner. An old hand will be wearing gear in various states of wear. Post-Christmas, there might be shiny new shoes, nevertheless comfy and reliable, as they’re likely just the next model along from the old ones. The shiny shoes might be trotting along below a pair of favourite shorts where the seam’s been re-sewn twice, because they’re comfy, damn it, and Adidas don’t make these ones any more.
There will often be accessories of learned necessity — that little pouch attached to the shoelaces, say, because manufacturers still barely believe that runners need pockets at all, let alone might want to keep their keys in a different pocket to their smartphone, so could want more than one…
The aforementioned keys will probably have been pared down to just one or two on a simplified jogging keyring, because jangling gets annoying after the first five miles, and because runners generally pare everything down to the minimum. A single key. An emergency fiver rather than a whole wallet. The least clothing they can get away with in today’s weather.
That’s often the look of a seasoned runner: spare. There’s an economy of equipment to go along with their economy of movement. Beginners tend to be carrying more stuff, wearing baggier clothes.
There’s a specific reason for me to play “spot the newbie”, of course. I recently wrote the Android version of Get Running, my friend Benjohn’s iPhone app that got me jogging in the first place, back in 2009. So if I see a newbie out on the street with headphones in, there’s a chance they’re using my code!
It’s a very slim chance, so far — the Android version of Get Running has only sold around 3,000 copies, and most of those were in our biggest market, the USA, so it’d be a pretty big coincidence if one of my users jogged past me in Bristol. But I’m hoping that one day I’ll see someone with our app’s familiar “run clock” proudly displayed in the phone on their armband as we pass each other.
Having run for three and a half years now, from that humble beginning, it’d be nice to see someone that I’ve helped down the same path. Mostly that’s because there’s one thing that new and old runners tend to have in common — the feeling of accomplishment, no matter how short or long or fast or slow their running has been. And that’s a good thing to spread.