I do realise that I may be very late to the psychological phenomenon party, and you may very well already know this, but I only recently found out that semantic satiation is the term used for when a word is repeated so many times that it loses its meaning. This cropped up when I was watching Ted Lasso on Apple TV a few weeks ago (a brilliant programme well worth a watch). I genuinely thought that this was just some abnormal quirk that happened inside the cogs of my slightly cuckoo brain, so it blew my mind when I found out that it was an actual ‘thing’. Apart from being jubilant that this was one less addition to count on my craziness accumulator, it made me think that there must be a similar scenario going on in the old grey matter when you run the same route over and over and over again.
Does this sound familiar? One of your much frequented routes loses all meaning and eventually becomes completely disassociated with the original value you attributed to it. It morphs into a monotonous mixture of tedious tarmac and fuzzy shapes. You start to trundle over it in autopilot where you go through the motions like a running robot, simply to tick off another 5 miles in the daily step count diary.
Getting into this situation can be really demotivating and just plain boring. Let’s call this ‘Route surfeit’. It usually happens to me when I’m floaty running; running for enjoyment only, without a race target or running goal, but just trying to stay moving to counteract the scone calories (with cream and jam obviously). If you are feeling in a bit of a route funk, check out some of your local trails, right of ways, cycle paths and neighbouring towns to add some spice to your running again. I kid you not, once you find a few new routes you will feel like Rafiki, the Lion King baboon, when he realises Simba is still alive.
You’re possibly wondering what on earth I’m talking about or curiously waiting to see the relevance of this to the naked stranger. You know what? I’m just going to call him naughty Nigel henceforth due to the fact that calling him a naked stranger makes him sound a lot more alluring and mysterious than the bare faced truth of the matter. Like I said, meeting Nigel was one of only two times that I’ve ever felt uneasy in almost 20 years of running. The second time was about 15 years ago. I had been running the same routes for a couple of years and could have completed them with my eyes shut, blind folded while doing a backwards walking handstand. So I decided to branch out and try a brand-new one (because of route surfeit you see 😊). Oh the excitement!
This new loop would take me to my Gran and Grandpaw’s house 7 miles away. The first part of the run took me through the town where I lived and along the busy main road adjoining two towns, en-route to the motorway. Half way along this road was a right turn onto an eerily quiet backroad. As I jogged along, soaking in all the new and exciting views that surrounded me and admiring the fresh cracks on the pavement, I had a sense that someone was behind me. When I turned round there was a man on a bike, cycling like a sloth on annual leave (he was cycling so slowly that he wasn’t passing me). There was nothing sinister about that, but I wasn’t running particularly fast and the road was as flat as a pancake. He was maintaining a gap of about 15 metres from what I gathered from my spider senses. It gave me a peculiar feeling. You’ve probably all felt something similar before; it’s like the feeling you get when you leave the house in a rush and suddenly realise there may be a 2% chance that you left your hair straighteners/toastie machine/iron on (even though you checked about 6 times before you left). It’s that little hazy and muted feeling of doom, creeping into the pit of your stomach.
As I was approaching the right turn onto the quiet back road, I made a decision (quicker than my decision regarding Nigel’s hairy, white arse I would like to add). I could see a bench coming up and when I reached it I stopped to ‘pretend’ tie my shoelaces. The guy cycled slowly past me, with his legs and knee joints at an extremely acute angle. I waited another few seconds and then started running again. He was still going really slowly. As I approached the opening for the deserted road I stopped and overtly watched him as he cycled across it and into the village, knees tickling his chin because his seat was so low. I made my move and turned onto the back road, checking over my shoulder at regular intervals for the first 5 minutes. And that was it.
I know what you are thinking, is that really it? You were perturbed by some unfit, fat bloke that couldn’t ride his bike properly? And the answer is yes, yes that is completely correct. Way more weirded out than seeing Naughty Nigel in his birthday suit.
I suppose what I’m trying to get across here is that both scenarios are pretty incomparable in the details of what happened. Strange naked hairy arse presents itself versus a fully clothed man on a bike. The streaker versus the rider. I know, it makes no sense, but this is why it’s important to listen to your body (not just for preventing injury woes), but your gut, your 6th sense, your third eye or whatever you want to call it. He might have been simply a man with no other form of transportation that day, or a man trying to shed some pounds. All I’m saying is I felt a bit edgy and that little niggly voice is worth listening to sometimes, even just to pacify your mind.
- While we are on the subject of safety, I’ll keep this one at the top: Always bring your phone. I have often forgotten it on the worst days possible, like when I fractured my foot at the start of the pandemic and no one would loan me their phone to call for help for fear of virus transmission. I’ll give you the ‘toe’ down on that soon.
- Listen to your gut and don’t put yourself in any situations that make you feel uneasy.
- Mix up your running routes. Maybe it’s just me that gets tickled by a new loop, but it’s worth a try if you are low on motivation or getting a bit bored. If you’re on Strava, you can explore some new routes nearby.
- Always try and work out the mileage of your new route, sometimes I have misjudged the length and ended up running for many more miles than I had planned. If you put your route into Google maps, you should get an idea of how far it is.
- Don’t worry! I know I have doubled up on the safety stories, but not to frighten you in any way shape or form. It’s really just because Naughty Nigel’s butt cheeks tale was too good to sit on. And even though it was an ass-ault on the eyeballs, it still ‘cracks’ me up. Let’s face it, feeling strange twice over hundreds of running outings is a pretty good statistic I would say.