18th Mar 2021
One year on from the beginning of what most people thought was a 'weird but short time away from the real world', we find ourselves - across the world - still struggling with Covid. We wanted to put some stories out there from our supporters about what lockdown has done to them - the good, the bad and the potentially ugly. It's affected everyone in different ways, but there's no doubt it's changed lives. So sit back, relax and join us...
This time last year, I was relaxing with my husband and four kids in a lodge at Center Parcs, celebrating my younger daughter’s twelfth birthday. We are a camping family, and very rarely do we go away for a holiday that doesn’t involve canvas, a Trangia, and many, many sleeping bags… but for once, as our local school holidays happened to fall outside those of most of the UK, the accommodation rates were amazingly and uniquely in our price range, and we went all spontaneous, and booked five days away all together at the gorgeous Woburn site.
Pine trees, hills, a sauna (I know!! fancy!), a coffee machine, a huge corner sofa that could fit all six of us to watch movies in comfort—it was bliss. Sunshine, blue skies—and magically, we woke one morning to an inch or two of snow. My husband and the kids spent most of every day in the heated pool complex, spinning around the rapids as snow fell on their goggles. And I ran.
I work as a self-employed writer and editor, and spend hours and hours every day at a screen. I worked from home before it was cool (or at least, before we all had to), and so my daily running has been a really important of my life for the last seven years.
Generally I have a fairly flexible workday, and as long as I do the school run with my youngest (a short walk away) at 8.30 and 3.15, I can fit my running into whenever works best between projects and online meetings/calls. I’m one of the super lucky types who doesn’t have to get up at ridiculous o’ clock to run, or only ever gets outside in the dark.
Life in 2019/early 2020: I run over once or twice a week to a HIIT class (an hour of sweating and regretting, until the class is over, and I feel completely epic). I run daily, mostly a 5k, with a 10k midweek and a longer run at the weekend. I don’t often race, but it’s been known. Longest distance is a marathon, but my ideal is somewhere between 6-10 miles. When I’m a bit achey, I do yoga. I eat well, plant-based, and drink a glass or two of wine, two or three times a week at most. Mostly I run solo, with the occasional parkrun; when there’s a Run Things event on I captain Team Rudolph, and that usually involves lots of group running and challenges.
*Sigh for the Before Times.*
I still remember sitting down with the kids in March to tell them that they wouldn’t be going back to school again any time soon—maybe not even until September. Even as I was speaking, a voice inside my head was asking: ‘Am I going bonkers? Is this real? Did I dream this?!’
Everything changed, didn’t it?
Suddenly my world shrank to our four walls. I don’t have a separate room for work: my study is a nook on the landing, a thoroughfare past a bathroom and two of the kids’ bedrooms. This used to be fine during the day and late at night; everyone was at school or asleep. Less ideal when there are five extra people in the house burning wifi, eating, talking, yelling with frustration when Teams / Zoom crashes again, or—in the case of my secondary-school-teacher husband—teaching Maths in a Very Loud Voice.
In other horrible but not-completely-Covid-related news, I was struggling with an injury. I did something weird to my Achilles in a HIIT class (that ultimately took nearly a year for proper diagnosis and effective treatment), which steadily became more and more painful. I started off trying to run through it—I’ve run through dozens of minor injuries before, and my bloody-mindedness is probably the only reason I’m a runner at all. I have no natural talent for it, I just refuse to stop, and have plodded and slogged my way through thousands of miles!
I came to running in my mid-thirties, and rather than a sensible and moderate approach with a running club or a C25K app, I simply went out one day in a pair of trainers, and ran: half a mile there, pause to feel horrific, then half a mile back. The next day I ran the whole mile without stopping, and the day after that I ran a bit further. It’s not textbook, but it worked for me.
So the Achilles problem didn’t get better. Plus, I was suddenly needed by my kids all the way through the day for practical stuff, and then even more in the evening, for encouragement and reassurance. My mum is in her eighties and frail; I needed to check in on her regularly, and do all her shopping. We were all exhausted: mentally and emotionally.
I didn’t enjoy running anymore. Even when my leg didn’t hurt too badly, I felt completely freaked out about running outdoors. I was paralysed by anxiety: what if I run past someone who’s infected? What if I’m infected, and I’m blasting Covid up and down my neighborhood streets? What if I’m completely safe, but I’m encouraging other people to breach lockdown by my insistence on having my daily exercise?
I started having mad Walking Dead-type subconscious thoughts on my runs: I realised I was plotting my routes so that I always had a clear path of escape and couldn’t get cornered by Walkers. I sort of made myself laugh when I had these moments, but at the same time, I knew this wasn’t indicative of a super healthy internal narrative.
We got through it. My anxiety slowly lifted as the year wore on. We found routines, we got better at lockdown life. As a family we belong to a church which was doing amazing stuff with online connectivity, so between weekly YouTube services and an active Whatsapp group, plus some walks and garden visits with friends, gradually we felt less hemmed in and more normal.
I really, really, really missed daily running, when I finally (sometime in August) had to admit to myself that I simply needed to rest my leg. I had started physiotherapy by this time, and had a vague sort of rehab plan, but it was like a form of grief. I didn’t feel I could make too much of it in a time when people around me were experiencing very real bereavements—but the pain and loss of this fundamental part of my life was real, and hard.
Over Christmas we all got Covid. We were sick. It was dreadful. I lost a stone in a week; I couldn’t get out of bed for a fortnight. At my worst I was briefly admitted to hospital, and it took a clear two months to feel properly recovered.
When I compare this February to last, there are some pretty obvious changes. I’ve gained some weight; eating plant-based food has been much harder over this last year of tricky shopping and vastly increased loading during my working week, so I’ve compromised on that quite a lot. I tend to drink a glass of wine pretty much every night these days; we try and break up the tedium and restriction of our days with more than a healthy number of Indian takeaways. (Is there a healthy number??!) My muscle tone is poor, especially post-Covid. I tried to continue my HIIT classes online, but just couldn’t keep motivated to do that really tough hour on my own, with wifi cutting in and out… so that’s gone too. We’ve lost a lot this year.
We’re closer as a family. We spend a lot of time together, and whilst the kids are desperate to be back at school on 8th March, we know each other better. We look out for each other in a different way. Things that would have gone under the radar before have risen to the surface and been addressed.
I’ve had to address work/life balance. My marriage, kids, mum, and my own mental and physical health are important, and I’ve learned (the hard way, after battling through a few 60-hour weeks) that work has to fit in its box and can’t rule me. It’s so easy to want other people to like or appreciate me, and put that validation above what really matters. I’ve eyeballed that this year, and—grateful as I am to have an income—I won’t let it be the dominant voice.
Running isn’t everything. I love running. I love how I feel when I’m running. I love how I feel after I’ve been for a run. I place a high value on health and fitness, and for a long time I’ve organised my day/week/life in general around it. I’m gradually building back some strength in my Achilles with regular physio exercises, and I have a good plan of daily walks, yoga, and three strictly regimented rehab-runs a week.
Getting outside, building back muscle strength and occasionally even getting that heart rate up is good—feels great actually. But this year I’ve understood at a very deep level that I’m primarily spirit, not body. I miss daily running, and all that comes with it, but it doesn’t define me. I’ve learned a lot this year.
Is Andrews - Run Club committee member and general legend!
Fancy sharing your story (of around 500 words) about what's happened to you during lockdown? Then contact us!