Imagine you’re watching an old time movie. The protagonist is spotlit, looking off into the distance. The camera slowly zooms in on them, a harp plays a subtle glissando up and down (or is it a portamento? – nvm, it’s not important) and a wavy screen wipe transports the actor back to an earlier time…..
Week 15 – “I booked my flights this week. There’s no refund if the marathon is cancelled. We’ll probably go regardless. I will run 26.2 miles, regardless“
When I wrote my last blog post in early March, I, like millions of others, had little comprehension of what was about to transpire. There were a few days around then that I still believed Gent Marathon would go ahead. Even the organisers believed it. I started following The Brussels Times, consoling myself naively that the Belgian authorities were far more optimistic than the British. They wouldn’t shut down large social gatherings.
Then the world went to shit.
To be perfectly honest, all of my energies and hopes for the marathon were dashed. I was inconsolable. I couldn’t really justify dwelling on it, because those feelings were insignificant compared to living through the grip of a global pandemic. By the time we went into lockdown, I had to contend with the heartbreak of my husband being stuck 4,500 miles away in Houston, and my parents stuck 11,000 miles away in New Zealand. No consolatory hugs. ‘Will I manage to run the distance?’ became ‘will my parents or husband get Covid-19 and be left seriously ill, alone in a foreign country?’
In classic grieving process form, I was in complete denial the week I was informed that the marathon would be postponed. I clocked up 50 miles just running, and running, and running. Then we went into lockdown. One form of physical activity per day folks.
Fair do’s, I’m okay with that. I’ll use my time indoors to plan some Strava art. Then see if I can run the routes. Which I did, and it was good fun. It was an escape from the loneliness and anxiety.
I’m not normally one to get overly emotional and maudlin. I had a wobble though. I’m pretty sure that I was suffering from a mild depressive episode during the second week of lockdown. Social distancing is easy when you just want to sleep all day. I stopped running as often. I stopped getting dressed in the morning. I stopped showering.
I stopped caring.
When my friends started to text and message me to check I was ok, I realised that I needed to do some work on my mental well being, and snap out of it, so to speak. The best way for me to handle change is to have a routine. So that’s what I did, and it worked. I’m not diminishing the struggle of anyone else dealing with depression. I’m recognising that I had a mild episode, brought on by circumstance and handled with self-awareness, self-care and actively seeking support from others.
I’ll bet many people have had similar experiences.
It’s now 38 days into lockdown. My parents did make it home on a repatriation flight eventually. Andy is still in Houston, working from home most days and staying the hell away from people. Especially those that follow advice from Donald Trump.
I regularly chat via video with family and friends, keep in touch with my running buddies via messenger and my garden has never looked so good. My son and I have shared some really great insights and experiences, we probably never would have had the opportunity in pre-Covid times.
I am embroiled daily in a Ryanair are Assholes type Facebook group – a great place to vent some frustration as their daylight robbing tactics to circumvent any kind of refund for cancelled flights gets ever more ridiculous.
….and I ran a marathon at the weekend.
The idea of running a ‘Montrose Marathon’ was born shortly after all our races were being postponed/cancelled/written off. Planned for 11th April, a group of us local runners figured we could just run our own, socially distanced marathon/half marathon. We had some ideas for t-shirts too (look away now if you’re easily offended).
In the end, the lockdown went on much longer than we all expected. Daily death tolls were creeping up at an alarming rate. The pressure to conform, stay home, don’t take risks and protect the NHS would make any sort of semi-organised run complete folly, and irresponsible. So 11th April came and went without fanfare.
I was tempted though.
Last week I read Pauline B’s cathartic blog post about cancelled races. These last few sentences really struck me;
This pandemic though won’t last forever and it gives you a lot of time to reflect: On past races; On future goals; On what is the essence that draws you to running and keeps you putting in the miles.
On reflection, I had to admit that I really missed those long runs at the weekend, the ones that really pushed me and were an essential part of my training. That feeling of utter exhaustion, but sense of achievement. The time spent on your feet, gently slipping by remote places, in quiet oblivion. The occasional treat of seeing a deer, or a dramatically lit landscape. The awareness of your own breathing, the rhythmic pounding of your feet and the uninterrupted freedom to plan, ponder and conjure any idea that comes to mind.
I felt that it was time to do a longish run. I can’t justify it, and I refuse to. It’s risky, yes. It’s possibly irresponsible, yes. But it’s my risk to take, and with a precautionary attitude, I’d be ok.
So on the day that would have been the London Marathon, I set off to run Keith J’s route via Brechin. Around 30 km. I set my watch to kilometres for the first time since November, so it wouldn’t feel too ‘marathony’. I accidentally ended up running 42.2 km.
How exactly does one accidentally run a full marathon? It was a twist of fate in the end. I planned to run through the Kinnaird Estate on my return leg. I’ve driven via Farnell many times, so I know the regular route well. I’ve only once driven through the estate, and that was when I was given special permission to shoot a wedding engagement session there a few years back. When I got to the entrance, it was clear they didn’t really want you there. The gate was shut (turns out it’s always shut and you can climb over), so not wanting to break any laws (or be shot at), and especially not wanting to draw attention to myself (exactly why are you 15 km from home Mrs Adie?), I ran up the Forfar road for a bit then diverted via Farnell. This added about 4 km to my route. Not a problem, happy to carry on towards home. It then dawned on me that by the time I got home, I’d be hitting my furthest ever distance run – nearly 35 km. I was pretty chuffed with that thought for a while. Then it dawned on me that ‘haud on, that’s only 7 km away from running an actual marathon?’ Once the seed was planted, I couldn’t stop it from growing.
I got home, changed into some shorts, ditched my running vest pack, troughed a bag of cashew nuts and refilled my water. I was home for around 3 or 4 minutes. Then, in a fugue state, I found myself out and running towards my familiar 8 km route around Montrose. By around 38 km, I hit the wall. I could have walked to be fair, but I just wanted to get home, as quickly as possible. I also convinced myself that my Garmin might be running low on battery (and was too afraid to jab buttons to check in case I managed to lose my run). Then I met Angie and Graham, told them I was trying to finish a marathon and after a thoroughly uplifting pep talk, continued on towards home. It was SO hard to keep going those last few km’s. Everything hurt, I felt like a dead weight carrying a horse. But the familiarity of the route made it a teensy bit easier, and slowly but surely I passed my regular points of interest…..the crossing at The Grove, the start of Murray Street, the Steeple, Bridge St, Castle Street and last but by no means least, The Westie Dash (or The Westie last gasp that day).
So that’s that. I ran a damn marathon. A completely bizarre, unplanned, disaster movie-esque, unprecedented kind of marathon, but 26.2 miles all the same. I can move on in my life, I can rest assured that when the time comes to run an actual race, I’ll know I have the inner fortitude (or inner psychosis) to complete it. I feel a sense of relief and a sense of closure. The unfulfilled months of winter training that has haunted me for weeks, finally laid to rest.
I have spent the last 4 days remembering what it feels like to really push your body. When I first took up running, each distance milestone I completed (1K, 5K, 10K, half…..) was rewarded by a day or two spent shuffling around on tin man legs with knees that refused to bend. There’s three flights of stairs in my house. Stairs are hard to descend when your hips, glutes and quads refuse to operate your knees.
All this time spent recovering has inevitably led to me pondering my next challenge. I found it. It starts tomorrow. It’s a long one too. From May 1st to August 31st 2020, I’m going to attempt to run and walk in a worldwide Lazarus Lake challenge, The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000K. I’m not going to blog it though. I don’t know if there will be a random blowing of the conch or lighting of the cigarette to mark the start either.
I am a little sad to be writing my last blog post for a while. It almost didn’t happen. Every time I sat down to write, I couldn’t find any traction, and it made me sad. I’m grateful to everyone that has been part of this journey, I honestly couldn’t have done the training alone. It turns out that I can run a set distance alone, without a crowd of cheering spectators and my friends and family at the finish line. That’s something we will all have to get used to for the foreseeable I guess. I don’t have any sage advice, or warm words of encouragement to give to anyone reading this. I can only reflect that running in the current global crisis is something you have to want to do for yourself, with your own goals and your own motivation. I wish you all good health and hope to run with you all again, like we did before. Stay safe.