Running my way through lockdown

Running my way through lockdown

Morning all. I have a hangover today. A few months ago, that wouldn’t have been particularly noteworthy. For the past 15 years up until COVID happened, I would tend to wake up a bit cloudy-headed with relative (but not, I would argue, concerning) regularity after one too many the night before. I am, after all, British, and that is what we do.

But the lockdown changed a lot. Since March, my social life has been limited to the occasional zoom call, the odd digital pub quiz and a weekly online poker game with friends. I still drink, of course, but not quite at the same vociferous intensity as before. A glass of wine here, a couple of beers there, but not much more than that. As much as online video conferencing software helps, its not quite the same as good old-fashioned physical interaction. Getting drunk on your own just isn’t as fun.

So last night, determined to end this healthy but slightly dull streak of sobriety, I got drunk for the first time since March. My girlfriend and I escaped the city for the weekend and boldly went where we hadn’t been for 12 weeks by having dinner in a restaurant. Inspired by the change in routine and a beautifully fruity Argentine malbec, we got slightly carried away and now my head hurts. I’m pretty tired, and this is taking me far longer than usual to write, but otherwise it was a roaring success. Getting drunk post-COVID, it turns out, is just as fun as getting drunk pre-COVID.

But while I plan to make my return to alcoholism permanent, I did enjoy certain positive adjustments to my life during sobriety. I slept better, and as a result of having more energy, was generally more productive. My waistline has shrunk noticeably. I also managed to stick to a regular running schedule for the first time in my life (you won’t be surprised to learn that, following last night’s excesses, I failed to get up for my planned morning jog this morning).

I’ve always been a sporty person. Through school I tried out a variety – football, badminton, cricket – before latterly focusing on rugby. In adulthood, I continue to play tennis regularly, while also dabbling in the odd 5-a-side football match and game of squash. I have done two full ski seasons in the Alps, and instead of sitting lifelessly on a holiday beach, I generally seek to fill the time with surfing, frisbee-ing or simply playing catch in the water.

But despite the fact that most of the aforementioned activities involve running in some form or another, I have never managed to get into it as a sport. I have only ever turned to running as a last resort, if there was no other more entertaining way of getting my heart rate up and stress levels down. As a result, I was always pretty bad at it. I would run 3 km on my gym’s treadmill in about 20 mins before having to stop, red-faced and breathless. I was so bad, in fact, that the very thought of running a marathon – or even a half marathon – seemed to me like a superhuman feat, something so far from the realms of possibility that it was simply incomprehensible. How can anyone run 26 miles if I, a young man in relatively good physical condition, cannot even muster two?

I reconciled this feeling of inferiority and failure by telling myself that I wasn’t built for running. Average height and stocky, I am designed for short, sharp bursts of speed and power rather than the steady energy release required for long-distance running. In any case, its kind of boring and bad for the joints. That’s what I told myself.

Until lockdown. Spurred along by having more time and fewer hangovers – as well as the closure of my local tennis club – I finally started to get running. Every other day for the past two months (this morning’s blip not withstanding), I have laced up my trusty Asics and gone for a run. During this period I have shaved about eight minutes off my average 5km time. Admittedly, this speaks more to my pre-training lack of pace than my current abundance of it, but it is nevertheless gratifying to see real, concrete improvement from week to week.

To my surprise, its actually quite enjoyable. There is a certain simple beauty to running. Unlike pretty much all other forms of exercise, it is entirely free of any logistical constraints. It doesn’t matter where you are, who you’re with or what you’ve got with you; all you need to do is to get up, get your shoes on and get out the door. Within seconds you are outside in the fresh air and putting your heart to work. There are a few technical nuances that I have found to be quite important for beginners, like what to do with your feet and how to breathe properly (Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run is a brilliant book and great place to start for any newcomers out there), but generally speaking its as simple as it looks. Considering how long it takes to get good enough to truly enjoy other sports like tennis and cricket, for example, its easy to see why running is becoming so popular around the world.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still prefer “real” sports and will always choose to pick up a tennis racquet before lacing up my running shoes. The addition of some kind of ball tends to bring a healthy and enjoyable dose of adrenaline to an activity. Running offers a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it isn’t fun in and of itself. Nevertheless, I am glad to know that I can do it now without getting filled with a sense of dread and trepidation as I set out the door. COVID-19 has been pretty shitty all around, but I suppose it has at least given me that.

Right, that’s all for today. Things are getting busier this week with the England cricket team playing the West Indies and Formula 1 starting back up again with the first race of the season in Austria, so you should have some less-rambly posts to read in the coming days. Have yourselves a good start to the week and see you on Wednesday.