x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The elasticity of time

How can 30 minutes on a treadmill feel like an eternity while the same time spent chatting with a friend passes in the blink of an eye?

Ever since I was forced to take part in a school sports-day race in the late 1990s, I've had a thing for long distance running. It was at this time I discovered that despite being a pretty sluggish sprinter, I seemed to have a natural aptitude for the cross-country event. This didn't thrill me at first. The 100-metre sprint is a glamour race; it's fast, explosive and interesting – win this one, and you're guaranteed respect. Not so for those who excel at cross-country.

This didn't put me off, though, and despite my interest faltering in my early teenage years, I took up competitive running again at university and have continued to pound pavements or trample across fields ever since. That's not to say I adore it. It's rare that I pull on my trainers with a sense of unadulterated glee, and I invariably spend the first 10 minutes wanting to stop and return home. Pass the 15-minute threshold, though, and I find a sort of Zen state of mind takes over and things become bearable.

Until I moved to Dubai last year, regardless of the season, I always ran outside. It's more interesting, there are a greater number of distractions, and you're freed from the tyranny of the running machine, with its display box that malevolently states that despite your aching legs and red face, you've actually burnt off only 75 calories so far.

With the temperature rising, I was forced into the gym for the first time in months last weekend. And, true to form, as the treadmill kicked into gear, I found myself incessantly staring down at the screen, watching the seconds flick by, noting the minutes accumulating at what can only be described as an excruciatingly slow pace.

How can 30 minutes on a running machine feel like such an age, when, if you spent the same amount of time chatting to a friend on the phone you'd barely register it? My life, it seems, is filled with other instances when I feel the laws of time and nature conspiring against me. Those three minutes I spend staring blearily into the bathroom mirror cleaning my teeth seem to go on forever, as does 15 minutes of kneading dough for homemade bread, not forgetting those 30 seconds spent holding the plank.

And then there's the opposite end of the spectrum: when things speed up at an altogether undesirable pace. My mother phoned on my birthday a couple of weeks back specifically to inform me that once you're over the age of 25 (I turned 26), time is a runaway freight train. As we all know, two weeks' holiday passes by in a flash and don't even get me started on how quickly the final half-hour before a deadline vanishes. Speaking of which, the clock is ticking.

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