"I covered 300 miles, and gained a valuable new coping mechanism."
Four months ago, during my first outdoor run of lockdown, I tripped over some tree roots. I fell face-first into a stranger’s garden and my phone lay smashed in the main road. I ripped a huge, gaping hole in my leggings and my hands were bleeding from my palms as I walked the last mile home, lycra, flesh and dignity in tatters. And yes, social distancing was in place, so no one helped me up.
That was day one of my running journey. I can laugh about it now, but it was one of the darkest weeks of the year: personally, professionally, and, well… globally. But, as it turn’s out, there’s a lot you can learn about resilience when you’re flat on your face and your gym thong is exposed to the wind.
Just a few days earlier, I had picked up a suitcase and left an unhealthy relationship. "That’s the difference between me and you: you need people," said my ex, during one of our last conversations. He was right. Oh the irony when days later I was single, depressed, and feeling more alone than ever as Boris Johnson announced life-altering new measures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
After watching the news cycle on a loop, when I wasn’t sitting in a dark room listening to sad songs (peak break-up behaviour), I saw a glimmer of hope in the government-sanctioned one-hour exercise window.
I decided I was going to run. A lot. I was determined to become great at it. Nothing could deter me, not even the day one fall — the world was going through far worse than my own public embarrassment.
Call it madness, but I got up to run at 6 a.m. the next day. Heavy with the emotional weight of personal and global woes, I ran with tears streaming down my face. I felt like I was the sad star of my own music video – again, I can laugh now.
I kept on running; despite work contracts ending, as death counts rose, as the Black Lives Matter movement reached a painful crescendo, as uncertainty became the norm, and uncomfortable became a permanent state of being. It truly seemed as if my running routes were the only thing I could predict in 2020.
Of course, I’m not the only person who felt this way. The quiet city streets were paved with lycra-clad runners during lockdown. Back in April, a study by running brand Asics explored the UK’s new-found love of running. They surveyed 14,000 people across 12 countries, and "found that more than a third (36%) globally and 43% in the UK are exercising more now than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic began."
This isn’t surprising — there wasn’t much else to do apart from exercise when lockdown was at it’s most restrictive. But, it’s the mental health benefits that have kept me hooked. Whether I was on a run that felt long, punishing, or drenched in rain, ultimately I always came out winning. I needed that win. We all did.
"You’re back," said mum, as she noticed my smile was bigger, thanks to the endorphin high. My neighbours noticed my new habit, too – they wished me well from across the road every morning as I set off running. In fact, they became my socially-distanced cheer team, from ‘old man Sam’ who gave me a thumbs up at his window, to the marathon runner who’d encourage me with a gentle nod of acknowledgment.
The day my ex came to drop the last of my clothes at my doorstep, I ran my fastest time. I was a different person, and lockdown had changed me for the better. I was stronger, both physically and mentally.
In times of crisis — especially a world crisis — you learn a great deal about the strength of your coping mechanisms. Through running, I leaned into my competitive spirit and my desire to be better than my yesterdays. It was my greatest accomplishment, simply because I kept going even when could have very easily quit. I was quite literally running from my problems, but the further I ran, the more I happily left them behind.
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