Monthly Archives: April 2020

Healthy competition

virtual Half Mara

A little peace of Marathon Day

Week 5 of Lockdown sees the city’s runners in mourning for the London Marathon. The greatest race on earth was supposed to take place on 26 April. When Covid 19 first struck we were promised the 2020 race would be postponed to October 4, but that looks doubtful. I reckon we’ll hurdle that one and go straight into VMLM 2021. I wonder what will happen with all the medals and T- hirts?

My club marked the day by organising a paired marathon challenge. Slower runners were paired with the top flight ones – each runner ran a responsible, physically distanced 13.1 over the weekend and logged their results on a spreadsheet. The fastest pair to run a whole marathon between them were the winners. The fastest pair logged 2 hours and 40 minutes. One member of that fast pair ran the distance in about 70 minutes. I am in awe. And I was, of course, slow.

It’s really hard to run a competitive race when you’re all on your own. My long, slow Sunday runs have been isolated. I’ve seen my usual travelling companions across the park and on Zoom strength and conditioning workouts on Tuesdays and Fridays, but mostly I’ve looked faintly ridiculous, especially on Tuesday ‘speed’ and  Saturday ‘parkrun’ days, trying to run quick laps of park grass with my Buff over my nose and mouth and my sunglasses on.

I don’t run with music: chatting is my preferred distraction on a long slow run. We talk about work, spouses, lovers, children, hopes, dreams, frustrations. Since lockdown, Sunday runs have involved inner conversations, literary aspirations and plans about what I will write in my daily email to my husband. His are more compelling because he’s describing the challenge of being rusticated in Somerset with a mother whose powers of recall have been so decimated by dementia that she can’t remember the answer she received to questions she asked 10 minutes ago. He’s never watched Groundhog Day but is assured that that’s what his life is like. On the other hand, he’s comfortable; in a big smart house with an expansive garden, his brother is bringing in bags of groceries, he’s going for pleasant country walks, writing a lot, making music and his mother peels all the potatoes. Even when they’re not eating potatoes. She just sees a potato and peels it. She also likes to empty the fridge and put perishable items in interesting drawers. Smells ensue.

Her memories of being a girl in London during wartime are detailed and undimmed. She just repeats them. A lot. You can be assured of the fact that London in 1941 was absolutely nothing like London in the time of Covid 19, for all Boris Johnson’s bluster about ‘the conflict.’

I miss my running buddies, but the competitive relationship I have with my best one is still alive and kicking. We agreed on the route we’d take on Sunday, and we kept each other in our sights for the first seven miles or so. She’s a good deal faster than me, however, so pulled out of view at London Bridge and I was left to my own circular thoughts and the slightly sarcastic beeps from my Garmin’s mile counting (maybe that was just my slight derangement in the heat). She didn’t crow later, when we compared our times on WhatsApp.  Maybe she will when we do our potentially hilarious podcast. We’ve already decided it’ll be warts and all. Be warned.



Buff runner

In the Buff

Humorous videos have been saturating social media since we locked down, but one tickled me in particular. In it, as man is interviewed thus:

‘Ok, so you have two options here. You can choose A) to remain at home with your wife and children or B)….’

‘B, yeah, B,’ interjects the interviewee.

As the weeks of staying in with the family accumulate, the joke’s humour darkens somewhat, given the news stories about the likely rise in domestic strife.

Those of us lucky enough to have plenty of indoor and outdoor space to luxuriate in (and who have selflessly lent their husband to his elderly mother) should pipe down here, I know, but as a longstanding member of the running community, I have mixed feelings about the ever-growing numbers of escapee joggers pounding the streets and pouring into the parks.

I blame Boris Johnson for putting the idea into everyone’s head. He more or less prescribed a daily run as one of our lockdown treats, so the populace felt compelled. And it’s a way to get out of the house for rather longer. Coming back hot and sweaty hours after ‘going out for a quick run’ can be explained away by a lack of fitness. The new runner indeed started out quickly, then hit the wall five miles in and needed to queue for ages at a supermarket to buy the wherewithal to refuel. Prodigal runner then limps stiffly home to apologise profusely to beleaguered partner deep in the throes of home-schooling the children in a cramped flat.

It’s week 4 of lockdown now and the sun has shone more or less consistently here in London. After the first weekend of mass campervan/SUV outbreak to beautiful parts of the country (and the shaming thereafter of a bunch of entitled second homers, including Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer), chagrined exercisers have tried to content themselves with local parks and well-trodden running routes.

The lockdown craze for running outdoors has riled those who see themselves as serious runners (athletic club members, Ovett-style short wearers, people who don’t run with music, water bottles or wear T-shirts that say Run For Cake). They elbow their way past joggers, would-be gym treadmill hamsters and strollers, shaking off drops of perspiration in their wake, convinced of their immortality. After all, they reason, they’re not obese, diabetic, vulnerable or old. They’ll be just fine.

Such  ‘business as usual’ runners, who show scant regard to endangering the rest of the prisoners in the urban exercise yard, are irresponsible. Yet I, too, began to feel a little prickly over the new running craze that’s clogging up my old routes, before quickly getting over myself. I don’t own running, and surely it’s good for people to discover how delightful it is? It’s not as if there isn’t room for all the newbies, or that resources are running out (as has occurred with all the newly minted breadmakers competing for flour, much to the oft-Tweeted ire of habitual bakers).

In any case, I like helping out those who want to discover what I’ve been going on about for so long. An old friend recently messaged to tell me that in the absence of her usual swimming sessions, she’s taken to running. Her knees, however, don’t like that. What to do? It was easy to give a few tips about curbing her enthusiasm, waiting until the knees stopped aching, then download a Couch25k timetable and learn some knee strengthening drills.

And there are other ways to make myself useful, while I’m forbidden to physically coach clients. Secret London Runs, a regular employer, has hired me as their online coach, to try to mitigate the loss of mojo that customers may feel now all our running tours have been cancelled.

I’m only too happy to spread the love of running, and take the opportunity to advocate the practice of running on the grass, away from park-using masses on the paths, while getting fit enough to join us for the ever popular 10k Gin Tour, when we’re able to schedule them again.

Until then, it’s lockdown G&Ts while you read a few (excellent of course) Secret London Runs blogs for further inspiration…

Sick degrees of separation


Splendid isolation

‘We’re all in this together.’

How many times has these been the mantra of those in charge, from their very important yet comfortably appointed platforms, during difficult times?

We’re all in this alone. Some of us are more alone than others. Some of us are frightened. Some of us aren’t alone but feel beleaguered, since they’re banged up in a cramped flat with small children. I’m glad I just have the two cats looking to me for guidance.

This is Week 3 of total isolation. Husband’s had to remove to Somerset to lock down with his mother who needs care. We’ve decided that our 120-miles of separation will be the making of our faded 30-year marriage. We send a daily email and I am writing letters with ink on paper, because I like doing that.

To date, isolation has been splendid. I’ve cherished the daily ‘exercise outdoors’ allowance and been out on solitary runs, bike rides and walks. I’ve tended my garden. I’ve done some work because deadlines haven’t gone away. And I’ve entertained myself with WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter.

That last activity, however, has been a qualified pleasure. Social media is safely physically distanced, but can be dangerously socially stifling. It brings all manner of pressures to bear on those humans without a trusted friend close by to bring some reason into the mix. Already I’m angsting about other people being so much more creative with their time than I am. The witty videos, podcasts, thoughtful, pithy twittering of others is being liked and shared and found inspiring.  My easily roused green-eyed monster starts to stir and dig its claws into my ego.

Even my friends, innocently telling me during Zoom and Houseparty chats, that they’re getting on with their book/practising violin/redecorating their house cause a minor crisis of self-esteem.

When the fever of dangerous introspection like this threatens to cause a breakdown of rationality, it’s time to turn off the devices and look up, and out. How privileged I am to be in a house that has a garden. Space is not an issue. I can go outside and watch the rosebuds fatten and the sparrows mob the buds on the grapevine. I go for a run every other day and greet people I pass (keeping a wide, wide berth), while I run across the greensward of local parks. Staying on the paths risks incurring fearful glances from the other physical distancers out there, so it makes sense to keep on the grass. Running on grass is harder work and requires more concentration. All the time I’m making sure I don’t turn an ankle on divots and tuffets I’m not caring about anything else.

Digging deeper into the runner’s armoury of perfect displacement activities, I give more thought to running technique. Working up from the foot placement, to ankle mobility, to knee height, to hip extension, to core stability, to forward lean and arm swing, to neck flexibility, to relaxed and unforced face forward stance. Then it’s time to smile and breathe and enjoy the simple pleasures of being outdoors in spring time.

On other days it’s online yoga with my friend Carrie. I’ve never been able to go to her classes as they’re too far away. Now is the perfect time to catch a load of her wisdom and kindness as I Zoom in to her sessions. If you’re advised often enough to concentrate on your breathing, the negative thoughts  get crowded out by inhalations and exhalations and the focus on grounded feet, soft knees, mobile hips, spacious chest, loosened jaw and all the other body bits that need unknotting and releasing. There’s no time to fret about inadequacies and, with all this going on in the comfort of your own study, no young, lithe, Lululemon-clad beauties to compare yourself with.

I do it in my pyjamas and then go out to hanami (the ancient Japanese art of flower viewing). All on my own.