Runtalk

Christine in her garden

Lessons from Lockdown

Three weeks have passed since we went into lockdown. With no end to the current restrictions in sight, runABC’s Christine reflects on the new circumstances.

About a month ago, before lockdown but after we were introduced to the concept of ‘social distancing’, I ran the route of our local 10k. With the new government guidance advising us to keep physical contact to a minimum in mind, I offered fellow runners on the route a friendly ‘elbow bump’ from the other side of the road.

To say that my gesture of sporting solidarity was broadly misunderstood would be fair. At best, I got a bemused smile in return; at worst, a look of frustration and confusion from the chap who stopped running, thinking I was gesticulating wildly at something in the ditch next to him.

What a difference a few weeks make.

Now, as we enter week 3 of lockdown, we all know the drill. When another runner headed towards me on the path of my local parkrun on Friday afternoon, there was no bemusement or awkward shuffling.

A few steps away from what would have been our point of contact, we each veered off onto the grass, on opposite sides of the path. Where there might have been a high five, there was only a silent nod, acknowledging to ourselves that we’d done what we were meant to do. For me, that mutual nod sums up the past few weeks: a quiet recognition that times have changed for all of us.

I’m amazed at how quickly runners have adapted to this ‘new normal’ – even though there’s nothing remotely normal about running a marathon in your suburban back garden or speed training with the help of washing-up liquid and a strong towel rail. Runners are doing the best they can to keep their fitness, their sport and their clubs alive.

My own club held its AGM on Zoom last week, which I think went pretty well. Being able to admire the chairman’s wallpaper won’t replace the usual heated discussions and top-level strategic planning (or the cake) of a physical AGM, but it did the job, and helped us all look forward to the time when we’ll be running together again.

For me ‘lockdown’ isn’t about trying to live my life as before, but to take the time it has given me to think about how to live it better. While having everyone at home all the time has its challenges, slowing the pace of our lives down has had advantages, too.

I have more time to think, to read, to plan, to be. Goals have always been important to me in my running, but they've changed. I’ve often wondered where that path to the left of a certain track goes, but been too focused on making my miles or my pace to find out. Freed from a training plan, now I can.

I've also seen that the situation we’re all in also has the ability to bring out the best in people. Sensing my disappointment at the postponement of London Marathon, my teenage daughter, for whom empathy is not a strong point, insisted that I keep up my training and still run the distance on race day. She even offered to set up a finish line at the house and make me a medal. “At least you’ll win this race, Mum,” she said. I think she meant well.

In one lightbulb moment, my daughter realised how much running means to me – something that I’ve probably only really come to appreciate fully now too. I was aware of how happy getting stuck into a marathon training plan makes me, but noting – because of their absence – how many of my friends, contacts and social activities are related to running has astounded me.

Musing on the implications of three weeks of lockdown when it came, I realised that the only proper trips out of the house I had made in the previous month – other than buying food and ferrying the kids around – were to the last hurrah local half marathon and a meeting for the big charity race we had just postponed.

Heading into the supermarket for my weekly shop, two of the people I waved to in the car park I knew from running or organising races. During the shop itself, I had a long conversation – from opposite ends of the aisle – with a local race timer. Prospects for him and his business are not looking good, putting my own immediate problem of not being able to find organic wholemeal bread flour into perspective.

‘Solo’ running, even with no physical contact, can be anything but. Even living in the countryside as I do, it’s inconceivable that a long marathon training run isn’t interrupted – very pleasantly – with a quick chat or two – now at distance – with a fellow runner, friend or acquaintance.

So when I laced up my shoes last Sunday afternoon, I felt more than a little anxious. Earlier in the day it had been suggested that outdoor exercise might be banned, due to people sunbathing in public parks, of all things. Thankfully, that threat has not yet come to pass.

But until it does, I will continue to make the most of my freedom to run – and be grateful for what it gives, and will continue to give me, every step of the way.


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