By Stephen Morrison.

“Don’t crack the pavement”, “keep running  fatboy”, “It must be jelly, cos jam don’t shake like that” and a container of what I only hoped was water, are some of the things that I’ve had thrown at me while out running, over the last few years.

Planted deep within the minds of some young men and white van drivers there seems to be a trigger that is activated whenever they see a runner…. of any shape, size or skill level.

For now, despite being slimmer, faster and running more, the catcalls haven’t stopped. Instead, only the subject matter of their derision has changed. It has went from my weight to my luminous and flash jackets and backpacks (I often run home from work at night), my tights (ok, maybe I deserve that one) and about how wet I am (why, oh, why do I always sign up for Spring marathons?).

The comments aren’t funny, they aren’t original and they no longer make me hate myself. However, I still remember how they almost stopped me running. I was obese, I was slow and I ran alone, I felt alone. Every time a runner overtook me or came towards me, my head dipped and I’d try to run that little bit faster, if even for only a few seconds. I was painfully aware of how I looked and of how I sounded with my laboured breathing and my staggered strides. I have often wondered if these were irrational fears but recently I have been hearing similar stories from new runners that I’ve been encouraging and it reminded me of what many of us experience. Running is the simplest sport to do and often hardest thing to do. It takes both physical and mental strength. And there were times when I worried I had neither. I wasn’t built for running. I wasn’t a runner.

Then one day, as I was being overtaken, I heard a voice: “You’re doing great” as they sped past me. It made me lift my head and it lifted my spirit. My pace quickened and it made me smile. I began to then notice other runners smiling at me. Not condescending and pitying smiles, but smiles full of warmth. I smiled back.

And now no matter where I run, I smile. All my running photographs have me smiling. Every time I cross a finishing line, I smile. Every time I approach a runner coming in the opposite direction I nod, I say hello and I smile.  Almost everyone (in the UK, at least) smiles back, but not all. I don’t know if they are focusing on their run, or if they possibly think I am strange, but it is always disappointing when someone’s face seems frozen in a grimace.

So, let’s all make a pledge. We have a few Great Run events left in the year. Let’s all smile more. Let’s high- five more kids, as encouraging and inspiring them is surely more important than yet another personal best, and let’s be  especially friendly to those just starting out, who might just find it’s the thing that keeps them going, when  taunts from idiots weigh heavy upon them. Smiles make miles.