Are you into speed dating? No?

I imagine that’s for one of three reasons. One: you’re smugly paired up, hooray for you. Two: it’s not 2003. Three: you envisage two hours of bumbling small talk and then leaving so dismayed by the whole experience that you’ll immediately slash your standards and date people three decades older than you, with a wardrobe gathered from charity bins and Marmite stains on both their t-shirts.

Obviously, speed dating will involve meeting someone called Zenith / Zenitha. Their special interest, if they were on mastermind, would be parasites. They’ll make this clear. They will bring their own stopwatch to the speed dating ‘don’t want to overstep the mark!’ they’ll quip, and then laugh like the sound of an old sheepdog dying.

Like most 21st century singletons, my experience of dating has been… mixed. There has been tons of fun chat, a few meaningful relationships and chance wild passion (and not always whilst a lustful Uber driver is watching in the rear view). But there has also been plenty of ‘meh’ and the grim disappointment of being ghosted. And this is perhaps an optimistic note to strike, considering that I once enthusiastically swiped right on Tinder and matched with my own cousin.

With a spiralling dependence on running, which may or may not be related to my singleness, I have decided to sign up to something called Love Track: not just speed dating for runners, but speed dating whilst running. It promises to be fun, but in the rather dichotomous runner’s sense of that term — so either fun-fun, like a joyous bound through a parkrun finish line, or excruciating-fun, like listening to the sound of your Achilles tendon twanging, in the moment before it snaps. But then a run without misgivings is not a run to bother with, so I shelved my doubts and signed up to Love Track, thinking: what have I got to lose, and then grunting something about my dignity.

Like most wacky things (singing sea shanties, interpretive dance-offs) Love Track is in East London, more specifically, it’s on the 400-metre cinder track within Victoria Park. It’s free, it’s one of a kind and there is only one choice of soundtrack for something as ludicrous as Love Track, and that, of course, is the B52s party anthem from 1989 Love Shack which belts from a portable stereo around which gathers a scattering of runners with the apprehensive frowns and glances of all start lines. I’m not convinced endorphins will have the same socially lubricating whump as alcohol — of which there is none — but luckily unchained melody comes on the stereo next and eyes roll — such a cheesy playlist is a canny one, and the last of the tension drifts away.

Can a running speed-date be much worse than one arranged via a romance-murdering dating app?

Well, yes, obviously it can. Because on a date we all want to show our best side, which is unlikely to be the pungent, sweat-basted, beetroot-faced side, and spluttering answers to my date’s questions like someone being waterboarded might not be a turn on. Though as several unfortunate finish line photos will attest, my running-face is a close match to my sex-face, and it’s nice to get that out of the way early in the relationship.

The organisers can’t be sure this is going to work either — this is the inaugural event, the notion of Love Track is entirely untested. We are the test pilots, or perhaps the crash test dummies. Thankfully, the dummies have all shown up, ten plucky guys and ten plucky gals, ready to run and ready for looooove. Yes, we’re all wearing luminous sportswear to a date. Yes, one or two are wearing Garmins and fully intend on getting those miles logged on Strava. But I’m immediately grateful nobody is lunging. Actually, maybe that would be…. no.

The organiser, Joe Dale, something of a doyen of the east London running community and a committed runner himself, who was recently in close contest with an actual horse in a 22-mile race in deepest Wales, hands out the numbers. He started Love Track because he wanted to give distance runners, who are not always the most extroverted brigade, a nudge in the right direction. ‘So many runners meet at races but are too shy or impeded by tribal club loyalty from chatting each other up, seems such a waste’ says Joe.

Numbers are called out in pairs by the compère and we each find our partners cheekily grinning back at us. The mood is upbeat now, perhaps we’re all reassured by the fact that an awkward silence could be an opportunity to PB.

Off we go. Each couple trots along, chatting gamely away for three minutes. I’m not sure what other runners in Victoria park make of us, especially the speedster training on the cinder track who can’t fathom what we’re doing other than getting in the way of his interval session. Eye contact turns out to be less sexy on a date when doing so invites the possibility of running into the back of someone, taking out three other speed-daters and causing injuries that will require months of rehab. But then again, I’ve had worse injuries, and I’ve definitely been on worse dates.

I can’t really recall what I talked about now, only that the topic of running seldom came up and an hour later I realised that I’d had a cheery evening run, (perhaps at times a frolic?), in good company, times ten. It was a relief not to talk about running shoes or injuries, something that all runners will do when left alone and unsupervised. We’re like children with lighters.

And though my laps of the cinder track didn’t end in a handholding sunset romp with the runner of my dreams, friendships were kickstarted and Love Track was undeniably loads of fun. And because everyone seemed to share this view, we did what good runners do after a run, and all piled into the pub to correct for the threat of an entirely wholesome evening. But not before we’d furiously scribbled down the names of those we fancied as running buddies or lovers, later to be matched by the Love Track elves.

So, like carrot-flavoured ice cream or Ron Jeremy, Love Track shouldn’t work, but it does.

Has Joe started something magical? Will there be sexual frisson when runners in East London parks cruise past each other, checking each other out in Baywatch style slo-mo? Will I correct my running style to make it more pelvic? These are all, for now, unanswered questions.

All I know is that Love Track is a little old place where we can get together.

Love track, baby. Love Track.

To find out more, visit the Love Track facebook page

Doctor (emergency medicine), runner, wanderer and storyteller. Author of ‘Signs of Life’ (Profile), Aug 2020.

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