A lot can change in a few weeks, even a few days. Just a few weeks ago I started writing a blog about how I found myself running ultras and what they meant to me. I never quite finished it as so much has changed. To be honest I should have seen it coming, we should have all seen it coming. Races started to be cancelled or postponed but my first Ultra of the year wasn’t. I thought it might, I even said I wasn’t massively bothered if it did, I would just go run my own 50 miler on the South Downs. Then as things got weirder and the race was inevitably cancelled, I thought that wasn’t wise. Maybe I would go run a local-ish, (20min drive) 25km route x 2 to make up a sweet 50km run. I could even use my car as an aid station so I wouldn’t have to bother anyone. Then the lock down happened and the whole idea was just very selfish and pretty dam stupid.
Things escalated quickly, maybe they should have been even quicker but this is where we find ourselves now. One type of outdoor exercise a day per person. Keeping safe and staying away from others.
But what about our training?
What about the races for the rest of the year if we get out of this mess?
What do we do now?
How do we feel?
What should be our goals?
We are runners and we like to run right?
To answer some of these questions, I messaged a few people whose opinions I respect to get their thoughts. Mine will come at the end but I hope you enjoy these words.
It’s almost like a switch went in my brain over night when races were mass-cancelled or postponed and the reality of this pandemic set in. I want to run, but I don’t feel comfortable set in my usual structure.
I run because I like how it feels, I LIKE running alone and I like to challenge myself and racing has always been an extra adventure-bonus or challenge.
Since lockdown, I’ve been lucky enough to live in a fairly remote place so empty county lanes and low tide beaches are well away from anyone else. I feel lucky to have that freedom and solitude but my soul doesn’t feel free because that freedom isn’t universal.
My household consists of my parents, my boyfriend and two dogs so plenty of quality company. My runs each day have been solo around the lanes near my house and occasionally accompanied by my wonder dad who works for the NHS.
I haven’t felt like running fast and I am okay with that. Sometimes I push hard up a hill and other times I simply walk. Whatever feels good.
There will be plenty of time to race and we will appreciate those opportunities much more. I can’t wait for the day our freedom is restored and we can celebrate how much we have grown as people in this time, knowingly or not. It may not be in the immediate future but I’m trying to take each day as it comes.
When Jon asked me to write a blog about running during COVID-19 I’m sure he didn’t expect to get a blog about not running during COVID-19, but alas that’s where I’m at.
I haven’t run in two weeks now and I’m not sure when I’ll firstly feel well enough and secondly, confident enough to run again. ‘So what’s the crack E?’ I hear you say… Well, 2020 has been a bit of a non-year for me running wise. I had an injury during the winter of 2019 and just as it was getting better I’ve bounced from one illness to another, largely attributed to the plethora of germs a 1200+ pupil school exposes you too. Just as we went into lockdown I was suffering once again from a mysterious illness in my glands, which is most likely glandular fever… wonderful. The way to get better…rest. So needless to say running has not been in my thoughts at all.
In the past few days I’m starting to feel slightly better, I probably could run a 5km, even a 10km at a push. However the most important thing for me right now is to protect and heal what is clearly a weakened immune system, and therefore I don’t feel confident about putting myself at risk or those who would have to care for me in the NHS by going out for a run.
Just because I haven’t been running does not mean I haven’t been outdoors on some gorgeous walks… ‘Surely that defeats the point of protecting yourself, and running can actually boost your immunity?’ I hear you question… well, not quite. While 30 to 45 minutes of moderate daily exercise does stimulate the immune system, the rigors of running longer distances temporarily weakens it. During the strain of a hard run, the body churns out the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses immune function in large amounts. Right now that impact on my body would do more harm than good, so a gentle walk to satisfy the need for fresh air, keep my body moving and mind free is most appropriate.
With all this being said, this doesn’t mean my opinion on running during this lockdown is to NOT do it. Infact, I think if you are fit and healthy then running is a great option to keep yourself physically and mentally well. But I beg you to stay within the boundaries of sense. I don’t feel like it is the time for hardcore mileage and 4 hour training runs across the hills. ‘But, why? If it’s within the rules of once a day?’ Some might question… It’s my opinion, sure, and you’re correct in thinking that you aren’t breaking the rules… BUT as already mentioned, the strain of these long runs DOES temporarily weaken your immune system. So whilst you’re in that state you are putting yourself at risk of becoming ill, and those who will care for you at heightened risk. Services are stretched enough without some ultra runner who insists on consistently hitting 100 miles a week contracting a virus when they could have just reduced their mileage and increased at home strength workouts.
Can we please use this time to just ‘be’. Move your body in a way that feels good, get in some stretching, strength and conditioning. You won’t be racing anytime soon so there’s no need to focus on race weight. Move for joy and wellbeing whilst re-discovering a slightly slower pace to your day. Sleep more, read more, breathe more! Now is not the time to be worrying about mileage or splits, it’s a time to; stay home, protect those who need protecting and be kind to others which ultimately starts with being kind to yourself.
Lastly I really want to add a few things…
My dad (JP) is currently in the 12 week lockdown due to being classed as ‘vulnerable’ (not a word I’d ever use to describe JP, but there we go), my two sisters, sister-in-law and brother-in-law all work on the front line in the NHS so the need to ‘protect’ others is very close to home. I am taking this lockdown seriously and it’s also why I’m being a bit of a scrooge when it comes to social media ‘challenges’. If you’re going to run up and down your stairs for hours on end, well, you better not roll your ankle or fall down and smack your teeth out because if I was an A&E consultant on a 14 hour shift at the end of a 90 hour week… Well I’d quite simply lose my shit at such idiocy! Remember more accidents happen at home than anywhere else, and we are spending a lot more time at home! So I beg you to not start jumping arund your furniture like a twat whilst trying to recreate ninja warrior or the Llanberis path in a bid to; pass the time, complete some dumb social media challenge, or to avoid ‘getting fat’ (monumental eye roll on that last one).
See you on the trails… soon.. hopefully.
I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on how I came to be an (admittedly, obsessive) ultra-runner or what I get out of it. It’s crossed my mind many times, but I keep circling back simply to enjoyment. There is no back-story share, I’ve simply found I enjoy running, the challenges, sense of achievement and even the validation it can bring. I just want the rudimentary escapism, from our own thoughts and to a world of adventures, that running can offer. Have the restrictions we all now live under affected or changed this? No. It hasn’t. Am I bothered that I can’t run as often or as far or to train the way I once did? Not really. Can I, and will I, wait? Absolutely. Whilst I continue to run and exercise (within the limits we are asked to respect) I see this as an opportunity for me to relax and recover. My approach to running and training for events has never accommodated those aspects, so I am content to use this time to cut myself a little slack and recuperate. I’ll do this without worrying, without stressing and without comparing. There are more important things right now to focus on and, if I maintain my physical and mental wellbeing, running will be there waiting for me when this is all over with when we emerge into a new world. For me, this is not a time to be adding additional pressures from second guessing or worrying about things outside of my control. I think I’ll enjoy my rest.
How do you dream in times like that?
My dream of Lake District ultra (and from someone down sarf it is a dream indeed) grew big, got me scared and died before it started.
Do you remember your dreams? The hope for 50 milers, 100 milers and beyond. We dreamt the mountains, the descents, the forests, the lakes. We wished for 13hrs, 22hrs cut offs.
The dreams made more real with the plans in place and training schedules. Measured by gains (or losses) in fitness strength. Or by Strava kudos (whatever floats your boat)
And then the dreams got cancelled.
The goal posts have moved and keep moving. Calendar dates mean nothing. Keeping high volume of training defeats the object.
Living in the limbo as an ultra runner makes you feel like you’re one of the species on the verge of extinction.
What will happen to us?!
It’s strange to think we’re all in the same boat. The whole entire world wakes up thinking we dreamt it up. And we all wake up to the same reality.
I am yet to find my rhythm in the new normal, not quite sure where my thoughts are taking me. My dream is still alive but how do you get going?
As an ultra athlete time of feet is a big part of training. However, as with everyone else’s training during this global pandemic, it has taken a step back temporarily.
In these strange and unprecedented times, there is the realisation that running is only secondary. Bigger and more important issues that are happening around the world that is affecting health and livelihood has taken an precedence.
The first two weeks of working from home, I was managing my runs as usual. With all April races now postponed (Brighton and London) I was still doing maintenance and clocking 50-60 miles a week; 3 high intensity sessions, 1 easy day and Long Slow Distance run.
It was all going well, second week of lockdown I had blacked out on one my runs. Out on my weekly 800 meter interval session, during rep recovery I suddenly felt off. My body became cold, my breathing hard and suddenly I felt a surge of shock shoot up to my head. I gained consciousness as I was stumbling off the path and into the rough. This was a good 10meter travelled. Without any idea how I managed to find the position I was in; I had no hesitation to abandon the run for the day.
Headaches and tired eyes was to follow for the rest of the weeks. I was and still am in no shape to go back out to run. I consulted my medical friend and she was concerned. Alechia, knew her stuff, “At your age and the sport you do, it’s considered as a high severity category.” We had a chat about it and I’m not the type of person to visit the GP, so I had no idea how my local GP operates during the lockdown, I had to follow this up and not treat this lightly. Phone to GP was timing out therefore I had to look at alternative options. There was a virtual online GP I booked into, it didn’t take long to register and book a medical consultant. Dates had more availability than online supermarkets.
Still waiting for my appointment, mindful of my health so I have been doing less intense workouts and replaced running with other form of exercises; Yoga, stretching, functional workouts, little walks to keep cabin fever at bay. Until I get a root cause of my blackout, I will be taking sometime out of running. Slightly gutted as I had signed off the season with a good half marathon PB which I would have loved to have built on, but as stated earlier, there’s currently bigger things to worry about than PBs, Medals, Positions.
Running was something that I started as a means to an end, a way of shedding some extra pounds, to be done as a chore, then it grew into my passion, the other love of my life. Suddenly finding ourselves in this current situation has taken me for a spin, some days I’m ok and some I feel overwhelmed with the sadness and anxiety of it all but being able to get outside and put feet to pavement or preferably trail allows me to escape even if it’s only for a short time. The world always seems more manageable after a good run.
I have been running now for well over a decade and right now more than ever it is my link to the outside world. I am someone who likes to be around people, a hairdresser by trade and now a running coach my entire world is built around human interaction. Even though we have to stay apart I cherish the moments when I see someone out for a walk or a run. At the moment I am going out of my way to give a smile, a wave, or a yell of hello! I am waving to elderly ladies who are sitting in their windows, truck drivers doing the deliveries and our neighbours through the fence. This is as much for me as it is for them just to see a little smile or a wave back reminds me, we are all in this together.
I am starting to move my focus to races at the end of the year, I was hoping to do a few sky races, Lavaredo and Euforia Del Cims but unfortunately these do not look like they will be running, and I’ve come to terms with that. There are much more important matters going on right now then losing a few running races. I am hoping that I will still get to run the TDS but I have entered Oman UTMB which is in December and will be doing what I can within the restrictions to re-focus on these. Really though my running at the moment is about being outside and maintaining some sort of routine and my sanity.
What do I think? To be honest it took me a week to figure it out. My race was cancelled so nothing mattered that week. On the Saturday when I was supposed to be racing, I headed out on my local 23km route. I left early and knew I wouldn’t see many people. I enjoyed the solitude to be honest. It was the end to the first weird week of all three of us being at home. Earlier in the week we made the decision as a family to stop constantly watching the news, it was having a negative effect on our mental health. Limiting the consumption to once a day made a massive difference instantly. I also had a good chat with coach Maggie to set up a plan for the next few weeks. I like a bit of structure and knew that getting out to run would do me good as well with working from home. The plan would follow something roughly like this: 2x easy runs, 1x easy with some hills, 1x threshold or tempo, 1 longer run (up to 2 hours), a strength session and a rest day.
This allows me 5 days of getting out on my own, then two days when I can go for a walk with Poppy and Gillian.
Even though I am 99% sure my 100miler will be cancelled I need this, I need to be pushing on some days and bumbling about on others. I am also lucky to have some woods very local to me, I just need to get there at 6am or earlier to avoid it being too busy. It’s fine when you are walking but when running I think we just need more space. I am not saying that I won’t stop to let people past to even walk when behind a person on a tighter path as I totally will. I just crave that solitude on these runs.
Work right now is spending many hours with a headset on doing conference calls and it’s not the best of times to be honest. It’s almost too busy, I feel like I am neglecting the family and Gillian is having to take on much of the home schooling, which isn’t fair. I am actually hoping my hours get reduced so I can even up the scales in the next few weeks. We are lucky to have some financial security right now and we are not spending as much as we can’t go out LOL!
I crave the weekends even more than usual, the freedom to get on with things. To lark about in the garden. To have that long run, to just be present in what is happening. This is life right now. I know we are lucky to have a house and a garden, to have some security. We can escape each other’s company to another room if we need to. We have enough food and we have our health.
Life will go on for most of us. For those that it doesn’t, much love
Thinking back to the blog, I guess a reason I got into running Ultras is a race is an adventure and just a massive problem and solving it is finishing. I love problem solving and adapting. Life right now is an about adapting and solving new and very real problems. So that’s what I will do. That’s what we all have to do.
As to the blog, well I’ll come back to it once I’ve had the privilege of running another race again. Thank you for reading and thank you to Julia, E, Dai, Alan, Sophie, Karol and Jana