I’ve recently read an adaptation of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit with my younger daughter. It’s about a child’s favourite toy, and how he ‘becomes real’.
When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real…
…Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
This week I am saying goodbye to my old trainers. 15 years ago last month I started nurturing a hare-brained plan to run the London Marathon. I was fairly rubbish at any form of longer distance running at school, being ‘the wrong shape’. I was fit, and I loved hauling myself around the rugby pitch or chasing up and down the wing playing hockey, but ‘cross-country’ both bored me and exhausted me. I didn’t like hills, and it all seemed so pointless.
10 years after leaving school I watched a friend run The London Marathon in fancy dress. When we met up after the finish, I saw lots of other people who were clearly ‘not built to be runners’. Yet they had all completed this titanic task and looked elated. Maybe I could do this. I was still quite fit, I regularly ran 3 miles or so on the treadmill at the gym. I got hold of a long-term training schedule for first-time marathon runners and I was off. And those Saucony shoes were my new companions through it all. Even after pulling a hamstring weeks before the event, and then “hitting the wall” at 17 miles, these trainers were with me to the finishing line.
Despite years of almost complete inactivity, they are definitely now “very shabby”. The tread is worn thin in many places, one of the laces has a knot so tight that it will never be untied, the material is scuffed and worn away, the support in the arches and around the heels is virtually non-existent and the soles are pulling away from the body of the shoe. In short, they’re knackered.
But they’re not ugly, at least not to me. And while I am saying goodbye, I’m not sure I can actually dispose of them, except to a box in the loft. They are a significant symbol of one of my finer achievements; not only conquering 26 miles+385 yards, but also the long weeks of rigorous training schedules in cold, dark winter evenings, and actually enjoying running for the first time in my life. More recently, they have seen far more frequent and intensive action as I have lost 25 lbs through a combination of diet and exercise. We’ve been through a lot: I think of this as their retirement rather than their ultimate demise.
My new trainers are lighter, springier, more supportive and better-looking, but I doubt they will ever become Real like these battered old things.