By William J. Furney
I became famous in and around my village in Ireland in recent years for running along its scenic country roads; people stopped me in shops and on the streets and asked if I was “that person” they kept seeing running long distances, and I would say “probably; do you run?”, to which they were simultaneously amazed and astonished, wondering how they could ever do anything other than walk.
They seemed to think it was an extraordinary feat to run and as frequently as I did; but to me it was, and is, something as natural as breathing. Maybe their perception is an indication of how far our sedentary lives and comfy sofas and endless TV have overtaken any notion of working out and exercise. A while back I was walking the short distance from the village to my house when a car stopped and the driver asked if I needed a lift. “I always see you walking — is your car broken down?” the man, who had young kids in the back, enquired.
“I’m walking for exercise, and my car is just fine, thanks,” I replied, and he drove on, perplexed.
Our chronic levels of inactivity have gotten so much worse during lockdown, as people everywhere took seated solace in unhealthy and fattening “comfort food” to get through pandemic anxiety and long hours confined to their homes (I did hours of daily yoga and bodyweight workouts, and ran around the perimeter of my locked-down bungalow complex, as outdoor exercise was banned, till they told me to stop, and then I ran in the backyard).
Now, oceans away from the Emerald Isle, the same fascination with my running is happening, and a growing number of folk wave, say “good morning” and look with long, disbelieving stares as I zip past them in sweltering regions of Gran Canaria, named after a big dog (not a lyrical bird) and part of the Macaronesia archipelago off the west coast of northern Africa that includes Portugal’s Azores and Madeira, to the north, and Cape Verde, to the south.
One of my early morning greeters is an enormous, obese man who shuffles along with a tiny dog. Several years ago as I ran past him, my running glasses snapped and fell to the ground — and somehow ended up under a parked car. As I was on bended knee, trying to find them, this giant of a man stopped and pointed to where they were; I thanked him, and ever since, we greet each other as we respectively walk and run. And yesterday morning he had a huge grin, a windmill wave and looked better than he had for ages — proof that you’re never too big or too old to start moving and get healthy.
It’s a health and fitness paradise here, with year-round brilliant sunshine, almost no rain and a climate that’s been described as “the best in the world”. The exotic plants and trees and their colourful flowers remind me of my former home in Bali, as some are the same, but here I have the high temperatures without the high and crippling humidity that sometimes creeps over 90 percent but hovers around 80 percent or more. And while many here enjoy such outdoor activities as running, cycling and watersports, lots more prefer to feed their already overwhelmed and rapidly expanding bodies.
It’s in stark contrast to the skinny folk of the African continent, who literally have been dying to get onto these islands and go further north to mainland Europe.
Many men here, and some women, whether local or visitors, seem to have given up on life and not just let themselves go but have totally gone to seed. It’s common to see middle-aged and later-life men waddling around with no shirts on and with enormous stomachs protruding from their exhausted frames that make them look like they’re about to deliver sextuplets.
A late girlfriend used to joke that their wives liked them like that, and encouraged their men to gorge on fattening foods, so they wouldn’t stray — who would want them?
They may not want porky spouses to have flings and possibly leave them, but what about all the obesity-related diseases, including diabetes and heart trouble, that could lead to them leaving early anyway (as in dying prematurely)?
These subtropical islands are a carnivore’s bloody dream, though, and steak and other meaty restaurants abound. You can forget about dining vegan, apart from at some authentic Indian restaurants. I was having dinner at one recently and informed the impressively outfitted Sikh waiters (with hidden sword) of my dietary requirements, and they informed me that some of my menu choices contained dairy, and so I was able to choose other items. Gracias!
I’ll take healthy, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly food any day — properly fueling my runs and not slowing me down. And I’ll also take the joy of movement over sloth any day.
- Title photograph, of yours truly running along a beach in Gran Canaria early one morning in May, is by Francis Libaud Gerbeaud.