Mark And The Millennial (Runner)

An ‘80s runner time-travels 35 years into the future – and finds some things haven’t changed at all.

Lisa Abdellah |

Running today isn’t what it used to be…

There was nothing unusual about the morning of 3 April 1983. Mark had invited his friends to join him for a time trial (he’d sent each of them a message by carrier pigeon, which was how people used to communicate with one another back then).

He put on a cheap cotton T-shirt, and a pair of basic ‘jogging’ shorts – not tights, mind you, because he wouldn’t have been seen dead in those. And on his feet? A brand-new running shoe, only just on the market – the Nike Pegasus.

His group started running, and Mark was so excited about his new kicks that he left his mates for dust. Picking up more and more speed, he began to leave a trail of fire behind him; until, at exactly 88km/h, he appeared to be struck by a random bolt of lightning, and vanished into thin air…

…and suddenly reappeared – but on the mean streets of Braamfontein at night, when mere moments ago he’d been enjoying a morning run on Sea Point Promenade. In front of him sprawled an urban jungle of gaudy lights, loud music, and graffiti-covered walls.

Mark was still running, though – but with a ‘crew’ of 60, all with beards, and all wearing matching high-tech shirts. Worst of all, they all wore tights… paired with calf-length socks!

“What year is it?” Mark asked a ‘crew’ member, bewildered.

“2018, of course,” replied Stuart.

Mark looked around nervously, at what seemed to him to be a very dodgy area for exercising. “Why are you running?” he asked.

Although this sounded like one of those existential questions that needs long contemplation – the meaning of life, whether going gluten-free is really the key to happiness – Stuart’s answer, though honest, was disappointingly superficial.

“So we can look good and drink beer. We only buy gear that has ‘swag’, so we can post pictures of ourselves running in it on social media,” he held up his smart phone, “and then go to a party, wearing that same outfit!”

“Er… I didn’t understand most of that,” Mark admitted. “What would happen if you finished Two Oceans, but then dropped that sci-fi-camera-whatchamacallit you’re carrying in a puddle, and it broke? Would your efforts become null and void because there’d be no record of them?

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“I mean, back in 1983, we also share our running experiences – by talking to our mates, face-to-face. No social-whatever necessary.

“Besides – how does stopping to pose for photographs help you run faster?” (Mark looked down at his shoes at this point, knowing all too well the hazards of running too fast.)

“I’m part of the ‘Strava generation’,” Stuart explained. “By posting my times on social media and getting recognition for it, I’m motivated to become the best version of myself that I can be. Just look…”

Staring down at his phone, Stuart had become distracted.

“Watch out for that park bench!” warned Mark.

But Stuart simply vaulted over the top of it. “We’re also into ‘Parkour’,” he remarked dismissively, and continued his explanation.

“Some guys carry Bluetooth speakers, so they can crank up their tunes – which is so last season. I prefer to run ‘naked’, wearing nothing but a GPS watch. It’s liberating.”

“Blue… what?” said Mark, even more mystified. “I agree, though – running shouldn’t be complicated. Have you at least followed in the nutrition footsteps of your running forefathers? Back in 1983, we survive a race on Coke and water alone – with half a cupcake as a post-race reward.”

Stuart laughed. “These days, running is about playing as hard as you work. A pre-race beer gives my legs pep; and after a race, we eat, drink and be merry.”

Mark shook his head sadly. “I suppose the Pegasus doesn’t exist anymore either,” he said, disappointedly.

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“Actually… that’s one thing that has been around for 35 years,” replied Stuart. “There’s one old dude I’ve heard of – Mark, I think his name is – who wears them. And he finished his 40th Two Oceans Ultra last month, in a faster time than runners half his age.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” said Mark. He thought for a moment.

“You know, when I first met you,” he said to Stuart, “I thought you were a poser. But, while you haven’t inspired me to change my ways, I now understand why you do, say and wear the things you do; because you’ve found what works for you. Just like, um, that Mark guy. And that’s what running is all about.”

With that, Mark turned his back to the future [Geddit? – Ed.], and started running, faster and faster. It had worked for him last time, and he was pretty sure it would work again. Sure enough, at exactly 88km/h, Mark was struck by a random bolt of lightning and disappeared…

…and reappeared on the Promenade in 1983. Where everything, reassuringly, was just as he’d left it.

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