Until receiving a press release earlier this week extolling the virtues of the Runbell, a little brass bell you place upon your finger to urge pedestrians out of the way during your daily jaunt, I thought I was open-minded.
As a freelance journalist who specialises in running and fitness, my inbox is inundated with all manner of curious new releases. From the latest nitric acid laced nutritional supplement promising a derrière like Kim Kardashian, to sixty-second six packs chiseled by laser beams bounced off Mars, the health and fitness industry knows no bounds. But surely using a tiny gong to push peasants off the pavements and into the gutter has not been de rigueur since the Edwardian era?
Assuming it was a hoax, I took to Twitter to giggle with my runner friends about the concept of dinging your way to a pedestrian-free pavement. Runbell has no less than 192 backers on its Kickstarter page willing to part with money for the realisation of a finger bell. God knows who they are; I have yet to meet a single runner who isn’t capable of stopping. Unlike cars or bicycles, human legs are equipped with an instinctive braking mechanism.
I thought no more about the miniature finger klaxon, until Runbell’s creator responded to my comedy Tweet. ‘Yelling is not polite, surprising people is not polite, warning them is polite, what’s wrong with a bell?’ he questioned me.
Then the US cavalry joined in and I started receiving Tweets from runners across the pond. Even the gear editor at Runner’s World US joined in the online debate and suggested punching pavement hogs in the head similar to Machuka’s sudden blow to Haille Gebressalie at the Junior World Championships in 1992.
I assumed all runners would agree, but much to my surprise, not everyone shared his sense of humour and Tweets for and against the Runbell came flooding in. It turns out there are people in the world who do actually believe a tiny gong is a perfectly civilised way to conduct oneself in public. One gentleman even accused me of implying something more sinister (of which I am still not quite sure).
There are so many reasons why utilising a miniature bell to get people to move out of your way is a really, really bad idea. If you tried to ding a fellow pedestrian off the pavement where I live, you’d swiftly meet with misadventure. I’d probably give a bell-ringing runner a swift right hook too if he tried to manoeuvre past me on his merry way, and I’m a pacifist.
I’m an avid runner and sometimes a nice pedestrian-free pathway appeals. But on those days I head for the hills, run around the park or find a nice quiet street on which to stretch my legs. The rest of the time I simply stop, slow down, or run around the offending human. You’d have to have a major superiority complex if you thought you were more deserving of road space than everyone else.
The only area of London one would struggle to find a single patch of running space is zone zero, and no runner in their right mind would circumnavigate Piccadilly Circus during the day anyway. Although frankly if anyone were self-righteous enough to assume their sporting endeavour took precedence and required a clear pavement, they probably deserve to be mowed down by a herd of aimless tourists.
As a runner, I like to tow the racing line, but on these gritty city streets it’s not illegal to go totally wild and weave, or you know, stop and walk. I secretly savour traffic lights, as they provide the perfect opportunity to rest and take a selfie.
But what really gets my goat about the concept of clanging a bell to demand the crowds part like the red sea is the absence of human interaction. Are we really so self-absorbed with our smart phones, running gadgets and athletic prowess that we can’t smile, make eye contact and say, ‘excuse me’ while gently maneuvering our way along the high street? I love running, but I’m a human first and a runner second.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.