The man walking ahead of me is wearing hiking boots. I’d put his age at 37.I see him every dreich/ sunny morning as I walk to Glasgow city centre from the east end, along the trajectory of the M8, through Townhead. He moves fast, but I aspire to move faster.
Identifying people to overtake – as sufferers of Competitive Walking Syndrome must – is rarely a problem. The elderly and infirm pose few challenges, unless they’re collectively blocking the footpath. Even young, able-bodied strollers miss glaring opportunities to shorten their journeys, doddering left-a-bit-right-a-bit instead of fixing their sights on the middle distance and traversing the shortest line possible. When you scoot past them they feel deflated and will never pass you again.
But Hiker Man knows no bounds. I keep overtaking him and he keeps coming back, overtaking me. He actually ran in front of a car yesterday – to get the edge on me, I think. I had a vision of holding his hand in his last dying seconds, consoling him with whatever kindness I could muster. It’s only a race, chum; we’re both victims; no hard feelings.
We’re roughly the same build but have different walking techniques. My adversary goes for the big stretch, his legs fully extended to make each step really count. I prefer slightly faster, shorter steps – a higher turnover that tends to cause less muscle burn over vast distances. Occasionally, I like to mix things up with some freestyle moves. No-one is watching, after all, except my fleet-footed nemesis.
At the traffic lights we some-times pull up alongside each other, rev our kneecaps, and do footspins when the green man shows.
Needless to say, I’ve tailored my gear to the task, and wear offensively white Nike trainers. They’re so incongruous with my other clothes that people stare, and I still kick myself for buying them. I have a strong affinity with Adidas, and if anyone would like to furnish me with a regu- lar supply of not-for-plebs versions I’ll mention you kindly in the future. I’m joking, of course; I can’t be bought. (Size tens, please – just leave at main reception.)
I’m experiencing drag and need to ditch some weight. In my manbag I find a black banana, a few dead batteries, a Drifter wrapper. I bunch them together and lob them into the mouth of a council bin without dropping a step. At this level of competition it’s the small things that make all the difference.
There are only three more roads to cross before we go our separate ways, and Hiker Man is pulling ahead. I’m working flat out to shave the angles, and break into an almost-jog for one particularly daring manoeuvre.
I need something magical to happen, and it does. Hiker Man’s long, winding bootlace is gradually coming undone. He’s still going full pelt but his gait has changed; there’s an air of creeping caution, an almost imperceptible left-foot limp. I can’t believe he doesn’t double-knot.
Oh, sweet lord. He half-trips and is forced into a cata- strophic last-minute pit-stop outside the bus station; he’s down on one knee, tying as fast as he can, but it’s over.
I glide smoothly past as if I don’t notice him, looking at my watch and lazily scratching my hip.
Eat my dust, mothersucker – today is mine.
First published on Herald Scotland.