By Chas Newkey-Burden
When I saw the CCTV video of a jogger on Putney Bridge seemingly shove a woman into the path of a bus, I was horrified but not surprised.
I've been a runner for 16 years and completed three marathons, dozens of half marathons and over a hundred 10ks and 5ks. During these years of pounding pavements and parks, I have lost count of the amount of times I've seen moments of jogger rage: aggressive runners barking at pedestrians, shaking their fists at drivers (or banging them on car bonnets), or angrily elbowing slower trotters out of the way at a "fun run".
These rage filled runners are an embarrassment to our community. They remind me of those obnoxious "lycra lout" bikers who cause havoc by whizzing through the byways and highways at the weekend with not a care in the world apart from beating their fastest time. Fuming runners, however, have got away with their behaviour until now.
AN INCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN
For years, I've wondered if an angry runner will eventually do someone some serious damage. We came uncomfortably close to that happening on Putney Bridge. Just released CCTV footage of an incident in May shows a man jogging along the pavement on the bridge and apparently shoving a 33-year-old female pedestrian into the road. Had the oncoming bus not swerved into an adjacent lane, this could have gone from assault to something a lot more serious indeed.
Putney residents are now saying that there is a serious problem with aggressive joggers on the bridge and are demanding that action is taken. I grew up in Putney and the bridge was part of my regular running route for a long time. The pavement is broad and, even during busy times, there is generally room for everyone, which makes this joggers angry shove all the more chilling. It was nothing to do with congestion - just naked, unprovoked rage.
We need to calm down and remind ourselves that it is not the responsibility of pedestrians to accommodate our heroic pursuit.
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I'VE WITNESSED RUNNING RAGE SO MANY TIMES
A video of the attack has now gone viral and many are expressing incredulity at the mindlessness of the attack. Yet, I have witnessed this kind of running rage so many times. One year at the Windsor Half Marathon, one runner aggressively elbowed me out of the way in the first mile. Before he ran off, he locked me with psychotic eyes and shouted that if I couldn't go faster I should get out of the way. My eight-minute mile pace was more than respectable, but even had I been plodding along slowly this behaviour was completely out of proportion.
I've also seen flashpoints at so called "fun" Parkrun events. These free, timed 5k runs take place on Saturday mornings in parks across Britain. They are designed to be community affairs, where everyone from pupils to pensioners, and pelters to plodders, are welcomed.
Unfortunately, "rage runners" can also be found among them. Earlier this year at Fulham Palace Parkrun, which takes place a short dash from Putney Bridge, a red-faced man, who was running with his terrified child strapped into a pram, deliberately slammed the pram into me as we turned a corner, before snarling and speeding off.
I've often seen joggers out on solo runs scream at pedestrians to "get out of the way", thump cars after their drivers somehow upset them, and even, in one memorable case, swear furiously at a passing duck.
ISN'T RUNNING MEANT TO BE THERAPEUTIC?
How does running, which has a deserved reputation as an emotionally therapeutic exercise, cause such bile?
Much depends on which emotion you are aiming to address by going out in the first place. If you are feeling down, a run is often an effective way to cheer yourself up. It can also be a surprisingly efficient method of problem solving or dealing with mental blocks. As you stride along, your mind will clear, allowing you to see an issue in a completely new and positive way.
So far, so good - but the picture becomes quite different when people use a jog to try and burn off anger. That seething, aggressive energy may help someone run faster and longer, but heading out for a run with these sorts of emotions swirling inside you is a potentially lethal plan.
RUNNING AND ANGER HAVE MUCH IN COMMON
While running can sometimes ease anger, it can also make it worse because on a physical level, running and anger have plenty in common. Both will pump up your heart rate and blood pressure. They release adrenaline and stress hormones, as well as tensing up muscles. Testosterone rises too, which might explain why, in my experience at least, angry runners are always male.
All of this can send the angry runner into a vicious cycle. They start to feel more, not less, angry. This spurs them on to run faster and further. Their blood sugar levels are falling, which makes them even more irritable. Round and round they go - and heaven help anyone who gets in their way.
Another factor is that running can tune out your conscious brain, which means you begin to interact with the world in a more primal way. This is what can make runners territorial and aggressive on pavements. They respond to others in a way they would never dream of during a casual stroll.
COWARDICE IN MOTION
Also worth noting is the potential for cowardice, which running shares with cycling and driving. It's so much easier to bark an insult at someone, or push them out of the way, if you know you can simply run off and get away from quickly.
My experience is that jogger's rage becomes more commonplace every year. I think part of the reason is simply that more people are running. With the higher numbers, the demographics have changed.
Running used to be a comparatively specialist hobby, which people took up for positive reasons. Today, it feels like a growing number of people are running because of what they don't want: they don't want to be fat, they don't want to be old. Or they are simply trying to run away from family responsibilities and grab some "me time".
A SURGE IN COMPLAINTS
Sergeant Mat Knowles, the investigating officer of the Putney Bridge incident, says that since the video was released, he has taken calls from victims of joggers' rage attacks dating back as far as 2010. Most had not previously reported the offence, and he predicts that this week's exposure will continue to "bring other incidents to light".
Everyday runners are simply athletes without an appropriate arena. A rugby player has a pitch, a swimmer has a pool - but runners do their stuff out on streets, surrounded not by intrigued spectators and carefully designed infrastructure, but disinterested shoppers, dawdlers, dog walkers and families with kids on scooters.
Runners could reduce the risk of confrontation by choosing their routes more thoughtfully. For a gentle three-mile jog, busy public areas might be suitable. But for a draining 20k, it might be best to take a more secluded course, particularly for the latter stages, to avoid the culture clash of running pumped yet exhausted down a busy shopping street.
Another step could be for us runners everywhere to just get over ourselves. The narcissism that prompts many joggers to share hellishly boring details of their every run on social networks, is similar to the one that makes some feel that the pavement belongs to them. We need to calm down and remind ourselves that it is not the responsibility of pedestrians to accommodate our heroic pursuit.