The use of the word ‘unprecedented’ in describing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has in itself been nothing short of, well, unprecedented.
Similarly words such as furlough, PPE, lockdown, shielding, peak and curve have embedded themselves into our vernacular.
We’ve cut back on socialising and swapped it for Zooming. We don’t just value our privacy, we put a virtual barrier around ourselves every time we venture outdoors.
Our runs are mainly solo and always socially distanced. Our running events have gone virtual or drifted into a perpetual cycle of postponements. Parkruns have been replaced by quizzes; live sport is being played out behind closed doors.
This is life under COVID-19. This is life since I last updated my blog.
Ah yes, the blog. One of few things that hasn’t been unprecedented since March is my propensity to write. Ironic, given how much free time we have.
In my defence, I’m still working (from home) and a few spells of good weather over the summer meant the garden ended up getting more attention than the laptop.
I also write for a living. And I can honestly say I have churned out more content since coronavirus took hold than at any other point in my career. Unprecedented, you might say.
And so carrying on into evenings and weekends with blog updates hasn’t felt that appealing. But I do have things to say, activities to report on, feelings to reflect on.
I’ve tried to document all the big moments since joining RealBuzz in the build up to my first marathon back in 2015. I really shouldn’t let that slip now.
So where have we been, and where are we now?
Well there’s no shortage of mileage in my legs, that’s for sure. Taking an hour’s commute each way out of my day has given me windows of opportunity for pre and post-work running and I’ve grasped them with both hands…erm feet.
By the end of August, I’d topped 1,000 miles for the year. I’ve ran my first 50 mile week and my first 170 mile month.
The pace isn’t anything particularly special, but my stamina is definitely improving, aided by twice-weekly home strength workouts courtesy of The Running Channel and everyone’s favourite online PE teacher Mr Wicks.
I’ll admit at first it was a struggle. Not running in itself, but getting out of the door to run at all. When we went into lockdown in March I couldn’t help but feel awkward and self conscious taking to the streets, even though a daily run was well within the rules.
I would get wound up by other people not social distancing or driving their cars to the parks and nature reserves when we were supposed to be limited to essential journeys only.
Looking back, it was perhaps a bit daft – I’m far better off concentrating on my own actions than fretting over those of strangers. However, it was bringing out the worst of my anxiety and frustrating me that my usual ‘safe place’ of running for escapism and peace of mind was under threat.
Fortunately things got better over time. I was supposed to be taking part in a spring marathon – duly cancelled – yet I kept the training going throughout lockdown so at least my running had a sense of purpose.
A 20 miler under lockdown was pushing the aforementioned rules somewhat, but with a 5am start I didn’t even see another person until nine miles in – and not many more after that. It was like a scene out of 28 Days Later, or as I remember hearing one radio commentator say (quite brilliantly in my opinion) ‘everything has gone a bit John Wyndham out there’.
As what should have been race day passed by, the team behind the London Marathon announced a clever idea called the 2.6 Challenge to try and maintain support for their charity partners.
I thought, seeing as I’m match fit, I should fundraise for the local hospice and try my hand at a lockdown marathon (not a back garden one I hasten to add – I tried running a mile around the lawn and it was hellish, plus it gave my Garmin a full-on dicky fit!).
So the date was set, 26 April, and a looped route around the Old Brickworks nature reserve at the bottom of my road plotted. Then, with 24 hours to go, I managed to break my little toe getting out of bed, catching it on a metal post that holds the mattress in place.
A contender for the ridiculous injury of the year award? I think so.
I taped it up and did my best to ignore the swelling and the pain. I had a go at running, eeking out 2.6 miles in the spirit of the occasion, but 26.2 was absolutely out of the question.
Fortunately I did heal relatively quickly and within a fortnight the challenge was back on. I’ll save the full story for a separate blog post – suffice to say I did see the finish line and marathon number 14 was successfully completed, albeit with an unofficial time.
At this point there was an outside chance that my 50k ultra, the Serpent Trail, would still be on. You may recall that was my main objective for the year, at least it was before the pandemic struck.
So I made sure training from this point on incorporated lots of trail running and hill work, exploring the likes of Hednesford Hills, Beaudesert and Cannock Chase – heathland and forest areas all within easy reach of home.
I’ve now worked out how to use the mapping function on my Garmin which has helped massively with venturing out to new places and keeping the runs interesting. I’m sure many of us have been amazed at the number of untapped routes we’ve discovered as a result of those early lockdown restrictions.
To cut a long story short, Serpent Trail did get cancelled eventually. July became August, August looked like it might become September and then they pulled the plug. I was massively disappointed, however my enjoyment and confidence on the trails is growing all the time.
I may look at other opportunities as events gradually start to resume, but otherwise I’ll just have to be patient. We’re all in the same boat, after all.
My only other diarised run is Beachy Head marathon in October. Still on as I type, with the organisers doing a sterling job to make it COVID-safe.
And in the meantime I have one more marathon to tackle, which is Milton Keynes Reimagined. This caught my eye over the summer because it was a clever halfway house between a full on race and a virtual event.
The team have plotted a route, created an app-based tracker and are inviting participants to run solo (or in socially distanced groups) on a day of their choosing within a two week window.
I’ve now completed my training block and am planning to head down later this week as I’ve finally been able to book some holiday from work.
Hopes are high for this one. I’ve found a fuelling strategy of Tailwind and Gu Gels that sits well on my stomach and I’m sporting a smart new pair of Brooks Ravenna 11s, recommended to me by a local running shop.
They checked my gait a few weeks ago and declared I’ve stopped over-pronating and can start using speedier neutral shoes. The Ravennas still have a bit of stability in the form of guiderails to ease my transition across, but they are lightweight and super-responsive.
But Milton Keynes is a story that will have to wait for another day.
Next up for the blog, the ‘Old Brickworks Marathon’ as I dubbed it and my attempt at running 26.2 miles without actually straying more than a mile from home…
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