Still held back by my weakened calf, I keep to a “comfort” distance (3 miles per run) and try to strengthen my leg by building up the frequency of my running. I run in a sweater and running trousers, with a hat and scarf but no gloves. I trust the principle that as I run my body will warm up naturally.
After a week or two of stiffness, but without pain, I allow myself the luxury of a parkrun. By a pleasing coincidence, a friend Ben, 18 years my junior, is there also. His recent times over 800m or 5k are little different from mine. He sets off hard, and at one mile is at least 200 metres ahead. By the start of the second lap, he is so far ahead that I can barely squint at him in the distance.
I up my tempo, desperate to catch up with him. He stops momentarily at the start of the final hill. Running as hard as my body will allow I close on him until, with a bend to go, I can almost touch him. “Ben!”, I shout. Hearing me, he hares off again. I end the race eleven seconds behind.
It is Saturday, and my eldest demands to be taken running. He has designs on my new watch (a cross between a watch and a digital stopwatch), which has the shape and some of the colours of the Ben 10 watch (“the Omnitrix”) which has been a staple of his bed-time reading. We make a deal, if my son comes running with me five time, I will buy him a watch just like my own.
The day is damp, with rain falling in slow, punctuated showers. By the time we reach the track it is mid-fall, and the rain continues through our shortened warm-up. I teach my son to stretch the muscles of his lower leg, he teaches me frog hops and pencil jumps. The youngest joins in the latter, but he fails to quite catch the knack of the exercise, holding his arms out front in fists rather than above his head, together, in a point.
Eventually, the clouds still a dark grey above, the three of us settle on a jog-walk circuit of the track. Reaching the 100 metre starts, we improvise a short race of sorts, the youngest starting, the eldest held back to race at him from behind. I intend them to meet at a line which I estimate as 50 metres from our start. The line is confirmed by a yellow flag on the grass verge of the track. But my youngest runs in a boomerang-shape, heading for the off-track flag, rather than the simpler line at the end of his own lane.
Eventually, our clothes soaking, we concede – leaving for food, and with plans of further sessions to come through (I hope) a dryer spring.
I walk with my youngest son to Finsbury Park. He ascends the slides. He climbs from a rope structure of interlocking hexagons, through a rope bridge, holding on by just one hand. A lexicon of tort phrases pass through my mind: allurement, contributory fault … I have sat at the back of courts as defences have been distinguished on the basis of a parent’s duty, or not, to shield their children from risk.
I show him the running track, hidden behind an odd-shaped duck pond, the edges of the water lapping with discarded water bottles. The tartan is worn; patches of black rubber poke through a crust of red. There is a sign asking runners to pay for use of the track but no-one to collect the money. Teenagers toy with a discarded shot putt. The scene is a testament to the rapid running down during this recession of past generations’ municipal collectivism.
But my boy sees it differently. I explain to him that the track is for running. His eyes widen in anticipation; he thinks of the hours and days he has spent running against his own brother. “You run round it”, he asks … “the whole way round?”