Twelve months ago this weekend, I was sitting in a cafe in Paris eating lunch with my wife and friends and preparing to run the Paris half marathon the following day. Then we got a message. The race was cancelled. This was the first manifestation of the impact COVID would have on our lives. One year on, we are still all living with the consequences.
It was a really weird weekend. I recall when we picked up our numbers at the big expo in the city, I thought this would be the last big event to go ahead because it was apparent the situation in Europe was deteriorating, but within the hour that hope was dashed.
I was due to run the race with five colleagues from work – three based in Paris, one in Belgium and one in Wales – and we had all been training through the winter for the event. After the cancellation we all got together to have dinner in one of our friends’ houses. We ate, had a few drinks, we laughed and we resolved to go for a run in the morning.
During that run, we took what is probably my most favourite running photograph with friends.
We ended up running what we dubbed the “Not the Parish Half Marathon”. A 13.1 mile tour of Notre Dame, the River Seine, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and then back along the river to finish at our hotel near the Bastille.
We hugged when we finished. We had drinks in the hotel bar. We hugged when we said goodbye. Then we headed to the airport and flew home. I have not been back to mainland Europe since.
The year since has seen race cancellation follow race cancellation – with one exception which I will write about next week – and the move to virtual events. Prior to last year, virtual events held very little attraction for me, I was much more interested in running “real” races. To be blunt, I still am, but there is no doubt that for me virtual running has provided a huge amount of motivation since the Spring of 2020.
“virtual running has motivated me to keep going”
I realise it is not for everybody. It does not replace the buzz of the day, the excitement at the start line, the support on the course, the sprint for the finish line and the joy at the end – though not having to queue for the toilet before the run is not really something I miss too much. But virtual running has motivated me to keep going – 5km runs, 10km runs, distance challenges – Race to the Space Station, Montane Spine Virtual Challenge – and the ultimate single event, the virtual Dublin Marathon.
All of them have played their part. And running has been so important to me as a welcome break from the reality of what we have all faced, a chance to get some fresh air and, quite often, my only time out of the house in a day and a break from the routine of working from home.
Now I am approaching the end of my biggest distance challenge – the Land’s End to John O’Groats end to end run which I began back in September. It has taken me six months of pretty solid running to get to this point. Now I have less than twelve miles to go to the end. The conclusion of 874 miles of running in rain, sleet, snow, ice, wind and, occasional, sun is firmly in sight.
The weather of the past couple of months has been a challenge too, but this weekend has been the best we have had in a very long time – two days of almost unbroken sunshine which have really helped get me to take out a big chunk of the miles I had left to run.
I find whenever I get close to the end of a challenge, I like to do a big run or a big mileage week to really break the back of what is left. It is not really about the pace, just about clocking off the miles to get it done. So on Saturday I ran seven miles- including a short sprint along the sand at Aberdeen beach – then I did my longest run in a while on Sunday.
I aim to run at least one half marathon distance run a month at the moment so Sunday was my last chance to do that. While it was chilly early one, it was another spectacular day; one where it is a joy to be out.
For long runs like this, I really try to focus on my breathing. Getting this sorted out early I find is a huge bonus, helping me relax. I also had taken the view that I wanted to run it really easy, so I set my watch not to measure distance but to monitor average pace. This was a tactic I used when I was marathon training and I found it quite a good discipline to follow to ensure that I do not go off too fast and then run out of gas at the end.
It has been a little while since I had ran more than nine miles, so my legs definitely were turning a little bit to jelly on the final, uphill three mile stretch to get home but again, having my breathing under control through this period just lets me concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the end.
Assuming things go to plan, I will finish the LeJog challenge this week. Beyond that? I have no real idea. I have no other challenges lined up in the short term, though I do have a couple of virtual events in May. I have my fingers crossed that the promise of better weather and lighter nights will provide the motivation to keep going. I also realise that the weather we have had of the last few days is not going to last. It is only the end of February after all.
This week though will signal one other positive. After two months of choosing to run on my own due to the COVID situation, numbers have decreased in the city to levels last seen in October, I have made the decision to return to running with friends once more. What better motivation to run can there be than that?