And then everything changed

Posted on: 28 Mar 2020

I haven't updated the blog for a while because I knew my next post would be my 100th. I wanted to make sure I had something memorable to write about. Yeah, great one Nick. Be careful what you wish for...

At first it was going to be a race report on the Leicestershire Half back in February, but I didn't quite manage to get the result I wanted and ended up about a minute slower than the PB I'd been chasing.

I have a good excuse in that the weather was awful – wet, with parts of the course actually flooded, and high winds, including a headwind for most of the final 5k. Beyond that, there's little to write about that I haven't covered in posts before (this being my third time running the event).

Then it was going to be about training progress, with long runs getting up to the 15 mile mark in readiness for the Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford and me discovering some enjoyable routes running from home to the new office. However, that same office has been keeping me super busy of late and I never really found the time to capture my thoughts and pen an update.

Finally I had settled on a report from the Stafford Half Marathon. That did go well, against all the odds. In fact, it went so well I finally managed to smash that PB which had stood for three long years.

I'd been getting super frustrated at not beating it sooner. I came within 10 seconds last year (at the 2019 Leicestershire Half) and it was starting to feel beyond reach. Now I've taken a whole two minutes off it and gone sub 1:40 for the first time. 1:39:30 was the end result and a finishing position inside the top 350. If you want to know what that means to me, see below as captured by one of the official photographers.

But there's so much more to Stafford than the finishing time. This was an event that many said shouldn't go ahead; we were almost made to feel guilty for towing that start line, never mind celebrating and collecting our medals at the finish. Certain members of the local community demanded it be cancelled. Hundreds of runners and spectators didn't show up.

This was Sunday, 15 March and 48 hours earlier swathes of running events across the country were being postponed or shelved. The London Marathon, Manchester, Brighton, Edinburgh and many, many more. My Spring marathon was next, Stratford – cancelled the following day.

It wasn't just running. Football, rugby, my other sporting passion of Formula 1 – all postponed or cancelled. Why? The rapid spread and growing threat of the coronavirus and the resulting illness COVID-19.

I desperately wanted to run Stafford, but with all the self-appointed medical experts sounding off via every conceivable social media platform (you know the ones), it was hard to make a rational decision. The organisers were adamant they would go ahead – no formal social distancing measures were in place at the time, no self-isolation, no lockdown.

So I decided to do it. Except on race day morning, I had nothing. No drive, no motivation, possibly sparked by the cancellation of the Shakespeare Marathon, or perhaps down to the insentient noise about coronavirus and widely reported spate of panic buying.

While eating breakfast I wrote on Facebook that this felt like a half-arsed marathon. And then it started chucking it down with rain.

As ever, Buzzers came to the rescue with plenty of good luck messages to try and bring me out of my dark place. I kitted up and drove to Stafford, using some of my favourite music in the car to try and spark a bit of enthusiasm. I did feel better once I started seeing other runners – a sign of normality – and much of the talk within the starting pens was about making this one count.

They had a point. Who knows when we'll get to compete again. I can't see any races happening until at least the autumn given how much worse the situation has got in the last few days. And I'm a runner that thrives on events. I train regularly and I train hard, but I need to have an end goal in order to stay engaged.

So at Stafford the game face finally went on. I did make it count, I did attack the opening miles with some mid to low seven minute miles. I did get through 10k in about 46 minutes and I did push through to eight miles in bang on the hour.

Even when it started to really hurt in the final few miles, I kept up the pace. It's the first half I've done where every mile has been sub-8.

I'd stopped clock watching after 10 miles, just looking at splits rather than total time elapsed. It was only when I turned the final corner and saw the timing gantry that I got a sense of what I was about to achieve. The digits were just turning over to 1:40 so I sprinted for all I was worth knowing that my chip time would be quicker still.

Such an enjoyable race, such an emotional rollercoaster having not wanted to be there at all a couple of hours earlier. A few tears, lots of well-dones from the incredible volunteers (they weren't phased by the virus either) and a PB I am immensely proud of.

But boy have things changed since then. I made a decision to run that day based on what I knew and the scale of the outbreak – minimal at the time, seemingly under control. There have been no adverse effects for me personally, no illness, no symptoms. If there was a health risk, it didn't come to anything on that day.

Just a few weeks later I've found plenty of spare time to write my 100th blog post because, like the majority of people, I'm in partial lockdown. I'm working from home, I'm going out once a day for a run or dog walk, I'm visiting a shop once a week for supplies and when I do venture out I'm carefully observing social distancing measures.

Phrases like that weren't even part of my vocabulary a few months ago. I work in communications and in early March I was asked to prepare an article for staff on good hygiene practice by our health and safety officer. I actually laughed when he used the words 'social distancing' (it sounded like a punishment, not a hygiene measure). Keeping two metres away from other people in case they cough? It appeared ridiculous and overzealous.

I'm not laughing now. This is unsettling to say the least.

I'm doing what I can to stay active and keep training, although quite what I'm training for is anyone's guess. A friend had offered to run a marathon with me (at the required two metre distance) on the same date as the Shakespeare, but that's off the cards now given the latest Government instructions.

Technically, my 50k ultra in July is still going ahead. I doubt it will though and the organisers have already revealed a contingency plan to move it to early September if required. Part of me thinks even September is ambitious now, but let's not get dark and negative again.

And so I continue to run, roughly following my marathon plan, albeit for now I've been too tired and mentally drained to get beyond 15 miles. Since Monday and the lockdown / distancing measures, it has been particularly challenging.

I have as much reason to be out there (once a day) as anyone, yet I find myself feeling awkward and self-conscious. Giving way and dodging other people on the paths and pavements is so strange. Early starts help (I was out by 6am this morning for the 15 miler) but it isn't that long before you encounter others exercising their right to exercise.

As with life in general, running at this time is going to take a considerable amount of adjustment and for who knows how long. All I can do is follow the guidance, try to stay well and look out for my loved ones, family and friends.

Quite what will happen if that right to run is taken away I really don't know. Chasing PBs aside, running has for many years now been my go-to remedy for coping with stress, anxiety and self-doubt. Perhaps that will need to be the rather difficult topic for my 101st post. As it stands, I think my 100th has covered more (and gone deeper) than I ever thought it would.

Take care, stay safe, be strong and draw on every ounce of that Buzzer spirit this community of ours is renowned for.

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