I’m very lucky to live in an area with plenty of nice places to run. I’m within a short jog of two deer-filled royal parks, and there are plenty of quiet roads. But arguably best of all is the River Thames.
This isn’t the massive wide River Thames that you’ll know from central London. A few miles upstream, near Richmond-upon-Thames, Twickenham and Teddington, it’s smaller and far less over-developed. In fact, thanks to Ham Lands nature reserve, there are several miles of towpath where I can run with the Thames on one side and trees on the other. It’s beautiful. Just look at it!
It’s particularly beautiful on warm summer evenings, when the path is quiet and the setting sun gleaming off the water adds a wonderful colour to the landscape. It may just about be the perfect place to run on a summer evening, except for one small thing. Well, technically lots of tiny things – insects.
I’m not an insect expert, so I’m not exactly sure what insects they are. I think they’re riverflies, although they might technically be midges. Whatever they are, they’re hugely annoying. They don’t bite, or anything like that – they just swarm in vast numbers near the banks of the river from late afternoon onwards. And that means it’s hard to run on the towpath without running headfirst into a swarm.
When you do, they get everywhere. I mean seriously, everywhere. They’ll cling to your clothes, thwack into your skin and land on my glasses. And if you open your mouth even a fraction, they’ll get in there as well. And while insect protein might be fashionable these days, they don’t taste good. And swallow a load of them while running and there’s a big risk of a big coughing fit.
Basically, while they don’t do any harm, running through a swarm of riverflies is incredibly annoying – and the prospect of doing is so off-putting it does put me off running on the otherwise stunning Thames footpath on a summer evening.
Riverflies aren’t the only insects, gastropods bugs and critters that can be annoying while running. Mosquitos and other biting insects are a nuisance, especially because if you get bitten and it goes itchy it can really put you off your running stride.
When it’s rained heavily, some of the footpaths near where I live are frequently invaded by vast numbers of slugs and snails. They’re annoying to try and dodge – and, let’s face it, there are many reasons not to want to step on them.
In summer, I’ve also had trouble with spiders, which can spin webs with incredible speed. They’re forever spinning their webs across a passageway near my house I use to link up running routes a lot – so I often run straight into their webs, then spend ages trying to brush them off.
Yup, insects might be small – and at least the ones we get in Britain are largely harmless – but the irrational annoyance they can cause runners is surprisingly big…