“Well, that was a year of running that I wasn’t prepared for.” – I think that would be a reasonable summary of 2020 for most of us runners. Whether our running momentarily stalled or was boosted through the sheer need to break the cycle of lockdown routines, it all changed.
At the outset, my running goals for this year were quite simple. A marathon every other month, a half marathon every month – although as it transpired I achieved so much more.
Until this year my own running stories very rarely made it to digital platforms other than to Strava via my Garmin connection. It wasn’t until May that I decided to take the plunge and create this blog along with an accompanying Instagram account. In many ways, it’s kept me occupied learning about an online community that naively I never realised existed. It’s somewhat embarrassing that it completely passed me by given my previous blogging and social media interaction although to my defence it was only ever work related to help build ‘my brand’ and once I achieved my goal I slowly retreated. As with everything on social media, it’s to be consumed with caution and as I forayed into this new world of running I applied the same sense. Seeking out contributors who are working on personal goals, who post scenic pictures (regardless of the weather and location), learning about new organised events and occasionally interacting in conversation with some. I’ve learned a lot about a community that appears to thrive on comradery and it’s humbling to observe positivity towards others achievements. Of the people I follow on Instagram I see real lives being documented and it’s certainly not all perfect and that includes the professionals. I don’t profess to know these people but there is a sense of normality. I have to admit I don’t just follow anyone without a little element of due diligence first so maybe that’s why I have the view that I’m writing about here.
The restrictions of this year have certainly changed our entire life routines. For many of us, fortunate enough to remain employed, this pushed our working lives back into our homes. The delineation between home and work became blurred. Personally, this has been hard to deal with given my typical working week would involve 50% travel with people interaction being the focal point. Like many others, working at home meant exercise was a release from the computer screen as well as a change of scenery. The weather in the south of the UK from March through to September was glorious, barely a dull or wet day that I can recall. My running routine increased dramatically as my enthusiasm for Zoom call after Zoom call soon diminished compounded by having no contact with colleagues. Runs became a near-daily occurrence being squeezed in during lunch breaks and in-between Zoom calls. I’m very fortunate to live less than 300 metres from access paths into the forests and countryside that I see from my window which meant I could dash out when it suited. I’d even dress every morning in my running gear, made sense really as it was warm pretty much every day.
As the weeks passed I observed, via the people I began following on Instagram, that there was a big transition in progress where race organisers had to switch their cancelled ‘in-person’ events to virtual ones. More and more photographs revealed all manner of race completion smiles followed by the MedalMonday hashtag in the weeks that followed. I admit that I wasn’t drawn in at first to the virtual editions and looking back now it was due to my inability to accept our new way of life. I didn’t really enjoy working from home, family and friends were always at arm’s length (and some) and now races were basically running from home. The events I’d booked in 2020 were postponed until 2021, virtual not an option or an option I didn’t want as it was the location and event I wanted to participate in. I wasn’t coping so I just kept running more. So much so I planned my own 100km route following a long-standing historic trail called the Stour Valley Way using OS Maps, splitting this into 2 sections as 50km is about my limit. (write-up here)
When August arrived there seemed a sense of relief around the globe as some restrictions were being lifted. I signed up for my first virtual race, 100KM in 8 days, and by this time my trail shoes could most probably auto-pilot their way around the local trails. Although I discovered it wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it would be. I had to work to a plan, to keep notes on distances and basically lost all spontaneity which prompted this blog post too.
The summer weeks were flying by and my hopes of getting a holiday away from home were, in hindsight, foolishly too high. Throughout the summer the travel industry was finding ways to get people out and about. Road trips were more appealing from a safety aspect for our family but by the time we were ready to go European borders were being closed and government advice on quarantine ruling changing on a weekly basis. Plans were scrapped. Despondent, very little running happened in September. Looking back now, perversely, taking nearly 3 weeks away from the local trails and breaking the ‘I just need to get out’ routine catapulted me back into life in October. A short break away from home was on the horizon along the remote coastline of Wales so I packed my gear. The coastline was hilly, to say the least, the wind intense (average 25-30mph), the rain painful but the scenery jaw-dropping (the photos are in my feed). Rekindled enthusiasm found me heading online to find virtual challenges to take me the end of the year. At this time though event organisers were flooding the social media feeds to virtually complete their postponed ‘postponed event’. They had medals, t-shirts and sponsors to appease so rules were relaxed to become more inclusive. Marathons, half-marathons and 10KMs could be run over a period of time rather than in a single non-stop session. My wife and I signed up for quite a few and depending on our level of fitness or commitments we’d use these to focus our exercise routines and also spending time out together.
I realise everything I’m writing about here is a “first world problem”. My family and friends remain healthy and we’ve not had to experience any of the real-world issues written about daily in the media of what people are facing. This is just a story of my relationship with running. Even while out today, on New Year’s Eve, it occurred to me there was a bit of Forrest Gump about my running this year. I couldn’t figure things out so I just kept running. Not because it was the only thing I could do, because when I was out I was in control and not being dictated to. My routes varied depending on my energy level and it was never about the distance, it was the freedom.
And that’s how 2020 became more than 6 marathons and 12 half marathons. A total of 161 runs accumulating 2037km, which way exceeds 2019’s total. Here’s the breakdown according to my Garmin log:
|Up to 10KM||56|
|10KM to Half Marathon||51|
|Half Marathon to Marathon||7|
If nothing else I am better prepared for 2021 with lessons learned why running should remain spontaneous and enjoyable, not an excuse to get out.