Illustration by the Little Mermaid.
Normally, when I go out for a run, I get a few looks of encouragement and support. Today, although it was my normal route, I suffered looks of pity instead.
It wasn’t that I had injured myself, or that I was running badly. The heavy breathing and pink cheeks are typical for me after running up the hill. If anything, I was moving faster than normal.
And it wasn’t like yesterday, where a class of French school children all wanted to pass along the narrow path and through the little gate into the church cemetery at the same moment as me. Their French accents as they apologised and got out of the way were all very sweet, but not at all pitying.
No, the pitying came because of the comparison
Today wasn’t a case of running along by myself looking brave against the backdrop of the Bronte’s moors. No, a light-footed young lady had darted past, most elegantly, moments before. Dressed in sleek black lycra – rather than an old second-hand hoodie – and running up the steep cobbles like they were a flat, freshly lain road, she was impressive.
The girl in question is my Little Mermaid
My cousin is half my age and it appears, twice as fast. She’s not yet as tall as me, but we share a shoe size and some genetic wonders that mean we both run with our feet pointing inward. She’s got better shoes and more experience racing than I have.
From her, I learn stretches that are particularly suited to my body and our shared inheritance. The Short Aunty joins in, proving that her legs bend in strange ways too.
However, the Little Mermaid is still categorised as a child
Even if she’s considerably taller than her mother, Short Aunty. For her age category, cross country racing is limited to 3 km. Although she also does 5km park runs – and her times are a good few minutes quicker than my own. Even so, her park run is somewhat flatter than my great hills and so she lacks practice on longer 5.7km runs with a 167m elevation gain.
Whereas I specialise in slowly running uphill
It started when I lived in a mountain village in northern Spain. Whilst my friends there would complain about how far away the beach was and how much effort it would take to go down the hill and run along the beautiful flat stretch beside the beach, I ran up.
And once I was back in Yorkshire, living in the bottom of a valley where the only way to go was up, I found myself running up more.
I’ve got experience of up.
And yet, without a doubt, the Little Mermaid beat me up the hill
She was impressively quick. She jogged on the spot as she waited for me to catch up. I gulped down air and shouted left and up, or right and up, as the next direction. We passed through the gate where the French school children had caused the delay the day before, and she darted ahead.
She skittered around a group of tourists going out for a walk on the moors, maps and rucksacks to hand. They apologised for getting in the way.
“No, it’s good, you hold her up,” I said laboriously.
“You should have shouted earlier!”
The Little Mermaid paused at the top of that bit of hill. I pointed to the highest point on the moor, and she set off again. The rough terrain had no effect.
Little Mermaid 1 : Aged Cousin 0
We carried on running. I pointed out the route and she sprinted off. I didn’t bother trying to keep up. Undoubtedly, I was running quick. When you’ve got someone to compared yourself to, and they’re making you look slow and out of shape, it’s an incentive to move your arse.
But then something funny happened
We reached the 3km mark. At this point in a run, I’ve warmed up. We’re on the moor which is gorgeous, the big open landscape is my landscape. This is home and it feels good. The Little Mermaid’s quick pace means I’m flying along, and since we’ve passed the top, we’re now running a gradual down. I know these paths, they’re all familiar to me. I feel surprisingly fresh.
We pass the same group of walkers, who in a jolly show of friendliness leap out at the Little Mermaid who’s still far ahead of me, pretending to slow her down. I tell them that they failed.
“It’ll do you good” one of the chaps calls as I run past.
He’s right of course. It is doing me good.
The Little Mermaid however has passed the point where she’d normally stop
She’s thinking about a glass of water, a sit down, a quiet stretch, a shower and something nice to eat as a reward for her hard work. However, she’s still got 2.7km to run.
She slows, and we run side by side for a while, then she’s running behind me.
“Can we pause at the next bench?”
I agree. My sister, the Midget, is always too proud to ask for a pause – she just internally bad mouths me when we run instead. Speaking out when you’re reaching your limits is a sign of strength.
I take off my hoodie and re-do my pony tail. My hair bobble snaps.
Which is annoying
But what’s also annoying is that I’m suddenly in the rhythm of things and we’re now heading downwards very slowly. We almost amble through the village. At the top of our road, the Little Mermaid decides that I should go on ahead. We can meet at the bottom.
Little Mermaid 1 : Aged Cousin 1
The tortoise wins.