I do not run to be in shape. I do not run to look good. I do not run for my health. I run each night because I enjoy it. After a ten hour day in front of a computer screen, I love being able to cut loose and lose myself. It is just me and my thoughts and nobody can disturb me.
Actually, that isn't entirely true. For the fifteen years that I've been running, something has been able to break my solitude: the hecklers. I do not understand the universal urge to taunt runners, but I've had at LEAST 500 people yell "Run Forrest Run" at me. Normally, their shouts are followed by laughter. I don't get it. Do they think they are funny? They obviously aren't original if I've heard the same line on three continents and numerous countries spread out over more than a decade. Nevertheless, people of all ages revel in their creativity of heckling runners.
For the last two months I've been living in a small town outside of London called Datchet. Compared to the city, it is an idyllic spot on the Thames River, just down the road from Windsor Castle. The town offers plenty of routes for running, and I find myself running more than I have in the past year because of it. Despite the abundance of running destinations, the people in this community are incredibly anti-running. I have never been treated so poorly while running. Perhaps the denizens are too lazy to do any physical activity themselves so they must resort to mocking the funny looking American runner. As I said before I just don't get it. Are people jealous or do they just think running is funny (which it is)?
Tonight was particularly frustrating. Being a rare, hot summer night in England, I quickly began to sweat through my shirt. In an effort to cool off, I removed my shirt for the final stretch of my run. The people of Datchet switched from mocking me as a runner to harassing me as a shirtless guy. I admit that I'm not the most attractive person (unless you like white and hairy), but I didn't realize I was being so offensive for removing my t-shirt on a sparsely populated road. Apparently so.
I brushed off the first few epithets, but I was unable ignore it when a van pulled besides me, rolled down the window, and spit on me. Seriously?
I don't understand people's aversion towards runners and towards unattractive shirtless guys minding their own business. I am proud that I am not apprehensive about either. For my last few weeks in this country, I will be taking off my shirt each night--rain or shine--and running the streets of Datchet.