Lycra leggings – the final step in the evolution of a running fanatic

I was out running the other morning, the usual steady pace, gulping down the frosty air, when it dawned on me that I was wearing running tights. You know, the ultra-tight compression ones. The ones with antimicrobial technology and go-faster stripes. The I-take-my-running-seriously ones. Yes, those ones.

When did it come to this? When did I become the man who wore Lycra leggings? Leggings that cost as much as Levi’s. It’s absurd – financially, fashion-wise, every which way. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought. Now, I’m slower to chide. It’s OK, I tell myself. I’m just being me. The new me. The runner me. The convert.

My conversion crept up on me. I had no Damascene experience. I didn’t go from a burger-addicted abyss one day to tights-attired nirvana the next. On and off, I’ve always jogged. Always owned a pair of trainers. Always kept moderately fit. But, somewhere along the way, things changed. I started running more. And I started thinking about running more, too. I began working runs into my diary. Weirdest of all, I started looking forward to them.

Packing gave the game away. I like to travel light. For a couple of nights away, a carry-on suitcase does me just fine. Well, it did. Try squeezing in running kit as well as your usual clobber. It doesn’t work. So, what to ditch? The bulky trainers … forget it. Out with those extra pairs of clean underpants instead.

The die is cast. My conversion is complete. Tights. Packing. Now that I’ve spotted my new running self, I see him at every turn. Looking at the view out of the car window thinking, “Ooh, I bet there’s a good trail through those hills.” Going out for a run regardless of the cold, wet, dark or the whole ugly mix. Reading books about running. Typing “pose running – technique?” into YouTube. Waiting for the January sales, to buy yet more unwarranted running kit.

The list goes on. Planning runs while on holiday. Boring on about injuries. Tracking personal bests. Having your running kit on a constant washing cycle. Finding words such as “chaffing”, “shin splints” and “tread” creeping into my everyday diction. Talking about running. Talking quite a bit about running. All right, talking quite a lot about it. And to non-runners. Who don’t care.

Enough, enough. To return to the question of the running tights. How exactly did I arrive at a point when I leave the house en collantes without a second thought? After considerable perusing of running’s sacred texts and much consulting of gurus, I have landed on a four-step path. If they resonate, you’re as likely as not a signed-up, certifiable runner, too.

First, wilful enthusiasm. At last, the darkness dissipates. Beams of light pierce the clouds. At the door lie your running shoes, beckoning you out the door. Virgin new, not a spec on them. Ahead awaits the open road. Routes you’ve never tried. Distances you’ve never attempted. Races you’ve never entered. It’s all so new, so exhilarating. You watch as those spare pounds begin falling off. You find your times get faster. You enthuse to your family. You evangelise to your friends. You’re tripping on running, basically.

Then comes stage two: doubt and denial. Your early zeal is waning. Your times stop improving. There’s a niggle in your calf. Your mum is worried you might be overdoing it. Your calf gets worse. You wonder if your mum might be right. Then your first winter hits. No one told you how cold it is before work, or how dark it gets afterwards. Running by head torch – I mean, seriously? Much better to put your feet up. Call that running malarkey a phase and move on.

Didn’t give up? Good. Welcome to step three, the club. The desire to congregate is natural. Just as Christians have their churches, runners have their groups. It may be a formal running club. It could be an online running forum. It may be this running blog. Whatever, runners seek one another out. It’s good to bond, to chat, to swap running stories. You can run alone your whole life and still feel part of the running family. Fast or slow, keen or lapsed, there’s a oneness that all genuine converts share.

All of which leads us to the final phase, the confirmation, the apotheosis. What’s the one indisputable hallmark of the true convert? The classic giveaway? Simple. It’s joy. Yup. Nothing more complicated than that. It’s that tingle you get as you lace up your shoes. It’s that buzz when you break into your rhythm, when you hit your groove. It’s that exhilaration at seeing the end. It’s a joy that is deep and certain. Sometimes euphoric, but usually not. It’s a joy that recharges and revives, re-energises and repairs. Long after your run is done, it’s there, lingering on. Hang up your boots and it clings on just the same. By their joy, you shall know them.
Running is not a religion. It won’t open the heavens or save your soul. But it’s a rush, a blast, a way back from the brink. Plus, it’s an open church. True runners welcome all, tights-wearers or no.

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