‘Oh, sod this!’ Barry ground to a halt. He put his hands on his hips, let out a spluttery cough, breathed heavily. Fortunately (he thought) few enough people were about this cold New Year’s Day to witness this limp surrender. Car keys in hand, the Focus was parked where he’d left it, a half-mile or so back at the park entrance. He glanced wistfully back at it and then at the keys. One useless without the other. ‘Ah well, come on’. Chastened, Barry set off again, this time at a slower trot. He had found an old pair of Nike trainers in the depths of the wardrobe. Sports socks, an old pair of shorts, T-shirt and tracky top. Lara had watched him with wry amusement, surprised that her husband was following through with his rather tipsy pronouncement of the night before. ‘Tomorrow I’m going running!’ he’d declaimed. ‘I’m taking myself in hand.’ ‘Yeah, right Dad,’ his eldest daughter had said.
But Barry was nothing if not stubborn. Jumping into the car he’d driven the half-mile or so to the Memorial Park, parked tidily, and had set off around the perimeter footpath at a steady lick. The memories had started drifting back, unbidden, over the Christmas holidays. He’d had some great times back then. Wearing the green and red he’d been a match for most in the south, over the roads. He was well known on the circuit and was known as a doughty rival. ‘Barry Lane,’ they’d say ‘good runner Barry. Never known when he’s beat. You think you’ve got him but the bugger won’t give in.’ A good clubman too, he’d make himself available for the relays and all that. Many a trophy the club had won, and they’d always put up a good show at the Nationals too. Barry had also represented the county on a number of occasions and the South of England. At one time he fancied he might have won an England vest but the selectors overlooked him.
But that was then and this was now. ‘Morning Eddie, Happy New Year’ he nodded to the old man, keeping a wary eye on Eddie’s unleashed dog of indeterminate breed. ‘Same to you Barry, going for a run?’ enquired Eddie. ‘Something like that’ replied Barry – ‘Stupid git’ he thought.
And he used to love the training back then. Four, five times a week. Sometimes with the lads at Wellhead, other times totally alone. Both had their merits. Running with the group meant that there was no slacking off. You’d go with the pace even though you might not be feeling great. Maybe a five-miler along one of the well-worn local routes with a target time agreed upon. Once a week it was down the track for a session. Sharpen up on the top-end speed. Other nights he’d run on his own – maybe eight or ten miles steady. Depending on the fixture list really. You’d target your key races and hoped to be running at your best for those. And then there were the long runs at the weekends, 14 miles upwards, done at an easier pace. The building blocks, the coaches used to say. When he was at his peak he’d run 70-80 miles each week. Not much time for anything else really. Certainly not for beer and smokes, he reflected ruefully.
He arrived back at his car. At least he wasn’t gasping quite so badly after slowing the pace a bit. Now for a bit of a stretch. Always stretch after running – he remembered the old routine. Calf stretch, quad stetch, hammies – they were the important ones. Arms, shoulders. That would do for now, no point in overdoing it. Barry unlocked his car and sat down. Not ready to face the girls quite yet though, and he’d hardly been out of the house 20 minutes. They would hardly be impressed with that really. Barry considered. He was 39. He was content enough really. A cushy (though sometimes tedious) number in the town planning department over at the council offices. A lovely wife and two great kids. An ok-sort of semi-detached house a mile out of town, the mortgage not too murderous. And enough money so that he could reasonably indulge his vices of fags and Real Ale, What more was there really for a bloke like him?
He closed the door and started the engine. He drove out of the Memorial Park gate and turned away in the opposite direction that would have led him home. He’d go for a spin on this cold New Year’s Day. Was this year going to be more of the same, he wondered. What about the year after that? The roads were quiet, which was unsurprising. A teenage girl slunk her way home still dressed in a bizarre party costume. Barry’s mind started to go into fast-forward – next year, the year after. He would be 40 soon. He’d continue to work in the planning department. He was competent but no high flyer. He would continue to be married to Lara, he supposed. The girls would grow up quickly and presumably move on. He would still be driving a Ford Focus or similar by day. By night he would leave it in the drive and walk to The Station, smoke his fags and pass comment on the condition of the beer. On Mondays he’d throw for the darts team, which sometimes meant a trip a little further into town. No country pubs these days though – the drink driving had put paid to that, which was sad. Some nice little pubs out of town, but increasingly they were closing or having to sell their souls and become pseudo-restaurants to survive.
He turned onto the bypass, the roads still virtually empty. Something was nagging at him, he was unsettled. He sensed this unease in himself but could not pinpoint the reason. Restless, why? He could think of no wish or want that was causing this unusual condition. Impetuously he dropped into third and gunned the Focus down the bypass for 100 yards or so before settling back into the cruise. Signalling right he took a minor road further out of town which would begin his loop home. Five miles perhaps. His favourite distance back in the day. He was able to hold his 5-minute miling pretty much throughout. Not many would live with that. He’d had a bit of arrogance about him as well and he would challenge the field with the odd spurt off the front, which – even he he couldn’t always maintain the lead, gained the respect of his fellow runners. And if he was beaten it would take a good man to do it. Ruefully he looked down at his stomach. Those days were gone. Soon he’d be home tucking into the usual fry-up. No need to watch the diet these days.
So that was his life, laid out in front of him. It wasn’t so bad. Better than for those buggers in Africa, or the Gaza Strip, or Calcutta any road. Slowly the Focus came towards the town outskirts. Barry didn’t know what was eating him today, he really didn’t. Maybe he just needed to go back to bed for a few hours after breakfast. That would settle him down a bit. That and a fag. He was a lucky guy and he knew it.
But now, to Barry’s complete surprise, he found himself parked once more at the Memorial Park. How did that happen? He switched off the engine and stared into space for a few moments. He got out and locked the door. And, quickly checking to see that Eddie and his dog were gone he set off at a jog around the perimeter path.
Chapter 2 to follow!