It has been almost seven weeks since the shutters were pulled down upon normality and the dust began to settle upon our neatly laid plans. In an instant our lives were changed forever and we now live in a world coloured differently, shaded in a hue I no longer recognise.
I won’t talk about the rest of the world or where I foresee this all leading as quite frankly I don’t to fall down that rabbit hole Alice. Instead I will talk about my experiences, about my world made minute. I started this blog, many many years ago, to document my life and while right now we are living through the worst of times, I think it is important to paint the picture with all the colours. This post isn’t the most coherent of blogs I’ve ever written, but hey this isn’t the most coherent of times we are living in.
Part of me loves this new, stripped back, normal; the routine of it is great for my mental health. My commute is now 30 seconds rather than 30 minutes, clawing that time back means I have the chance to get out and run and I actually have the desire to train once more. It has also become a period of real self-reflection; of myself and my future, resulting in a huge creative out pouring. Quality time with my partner; discovering new and stunning walking routes around our village, of quiet nights in and home office tea breaks. Inside our bubble, life is bright and beautiful.
But these silver linings encircle the despicably dark cloud that looms over every aspect of our lives now. I’ve had to watch helplessly as friends close businesses, as others lose jobs and worst of all not being able to hug my loved ones as we grieve the loss of one of our own. Work life, social life, mental and physical health, financial security become hard to grasp, fog in an uncertain time. The inability to comfort those I love with my presence and affection is the worst cut in a fury of unrelenting blows Covid has inflicted.
This vicious, unforgiving virus has stripped our identities back layer upon layer, peeling us back like metaphorical onions. As each day has past since the 23rd of March, I would realise that another layer had been stripped back. The first layer seems like such a small one in the grand scheme of things but it put the world that was about to unfold into sharp focus. I am a coffee addict, it is a source of happiness, energy and routine for me. But as my close friend closed her shop as the lockdown began I realised that so did that part of me and that it would be just the first domino to endlessly tumble. What jarred my mental health most back then was that we would be completely powerless to stop as the virus clawed pieces from us. It may not have taken my health but it has taken so much regardless. Seeping into every part of my life and eroding it. My story is nothing compared to those I know, I have the privilege to still be able to work, to see my parents as I drop off their shopping each week, to have my health and of course my partner.
Obviously, a huge part of my identity is that of a runner; it is the part of my life I am most proud of. It is how I define myself to others; it is the core of who I am. That stripping back of layers has obviously involved the loss of my identity of a marathon runner. April should have been stuffed to bursting with travel around the world and adventures in the UK. Those plans now lay discarded on a diary gathering dust, a life left unlived. Crucially I was going to be running two marathons in April, and the hole this left in my adventurous soul felt cavernous. I needed to run a marathon, I had to feed that craving eating away at me.
I didn’t feel comfortable running a marathon outside with government guidelines and all so I was left with two options: not run a marathon in April for the first time since I had begun running or do one in my own home. I had to run, so that left only one ridiculous conclusion. Before this all started would you have ever even considered running a marathon or any sort of distance in your own home? I certainly hadn’t.
My garden was ruled out straight away as it has a whole load of steps and not a lot of space in which to loop around it. An inside marathon it would have to be, I felt a bit lacklustre towards that idea as it just seemed a bit unoriginal but as I sat down on the sofa I was struck by the utterly idiotic idea; Sofa Circuit Marathon.
At this point I did absolutely none of the maths in terms of how many laps it would entail or how long it would take me, I just committed myself to doing it. My mind and heart were set on it.
As soon as I had chatted through the idea with my partner and she agreed to let me tear up our cosy sitting room and convert it into a race track I began to actually think it through. I thought it would be hilarious but as soon as I started to work it all through it became less and less funny and more and more daunting. I pulled the sofa out and started to walk around it, after a few loops I found a comfortable distance loop to do that would avoid the walls and not be too close to the sofa, so I laid out tape to mark down my route. After measuring I began to do the maths; a nine meter loop would mean 4,689 laps to complete the 26.2 miles of a marathon. 4,689. Let that number sink in. I remember when I saw the number appear on the calculator and all I could do was laugh, at the farcical circumstance I had put myself in and at the sheer boredom I was going to endure undertaking this marathon.
I did one mile as a tester two days before, by that time the decision had been made but I need to try and work out how long it was actually going to take me to do. After a few loops I soon worked out that I wouldn’t be able to run this marathon, not safely anyway. I could just imagine it now, turning up to my local hospital having broken an ankle skidding on my wooden floor and being laughed out of an already over-burdened place that did not need my stupidity adding to it. I would have to speed walk it. The mile only took me 16 minutes and felt fun and so I naively just extrapolated it all out and thought it would take me seven hours. Reading that last sentence back I realise how completely idiotic that conclusion was to make, but lockdown leads to strange life choices!
I had originally aimed to start at 6am to give me the maximum amount of time to do it, thinking that maybe I would be done by lunchtime if I cracked on. Little did I know, as I let my body clock and alarm clock snooze until 8am that this marathon would take me 11 hours to complete.
I wish I could spin you a tale of epic proportions; of beautiful sentences and paragraphs filled with intriguing tidbits but in reality it was just a cacophony of boredom. Hours spent listening to musical soundtracks, watching Doctor Who on the telly (the bits that I could watch while my back wasn’t turned) and podcast upon podcast.
To alleviate the boredom and dizziness I changed direction of the loops every hundred, keeping tabs on my trusty hand counter, which would actually end up causing me more injury than the marathon itself as clicking it 4,689 times resulted in a repetitive strain injury in my wrist.
I stopped only three times for breaks during the marathon; for lunch, out of sheer boredom at about hour 8 and to do an interview on BBC Radio Oxford about the ‘race’.
When I finally finished at 8:30pm, 11 hours later, all I could do was fall onto the sofa I had orbited for almost half a day and finally rest.
Only two hours later I was in bed, full of food and utterly drained from one of the most ridiculous challenges I have ever put my body through. As I lay there the room rushed disorientingly around my head, the dizziness that I had not felt for the entire marathon finally caught up with me. It felt has though I had drunk 26.2 pints rather than walked 26.2 miles but I had done it, I still completed a marathon in April.
The virus has taken so much from all of us but in those hours of mindless repetition I reclaimed a part of me back from its tearing talons; I was a marathoner still. So many others have done the same and it is these small yet shining acts of defiance against a silent foe that are my lighthouses in a future that is fogged from view.
I’ve used the phrase ‘new normal’ for much of my life. I’ve readjusted to new normals many times in my life; living in India, learning to live with my depression, becoming a runner. But they were solo expeditions, and now we are all stumbling in the dark searching for something to steady ourselves upon. But, we are all in this together. There may be loneliness in this isolation but distance is but a number against a shared struggle that unites. This will all be but a memory someday and together we rebuild our new identities in a world made kinder through unity.