It’s March 2020 and little did we know we were in for the most brutal ultra-distance event ever known. Boris Johnson ordered us to stay at home in order to flatten the frighteningly rising curve of coronavirus infections that was sweeping the UK nation. The gun goes off and to start with the atmosphere is positive and motivating, although there is a distinct hint of fear of the unknown. It’s rather disconcerting beginning a race not knowing exactly how far it is. Let’s hope it’s just a 5km……
Sadly, as we all set off we had no real idea that the road ahead would be quite as ill fated or unfamiliar. Like a dream where shapes shift and scenes and actors swap and change with no notice, the road abruptly ends and there is suddenly a body of open water to navigate. There is no time to consider how this might be done, everyone is just thrown in over their heads. No time to plan, no time to breathe.
Welcome to home schooling. A baptism of fire is an understatement.
Some parents emerge from the water utterly unscathed, invigorated in fact; images of their perfect banana bread shining in their eyes, their ears ringing with the multi linguistic chorus of all the languages their children are learning during this opportune time. Others drag their shocked and numb bodies out of the water desperately trying to catch their breath. Pausing for a moment to regroup, wanting to do their best for their children but also not knowing how to juggle the zoom call with their boss and desperately try for the millionth time to get a Sainsbury’s delivery slot. Any competitive spirit most parents had at the beginning was leaking away, taking with it their energy and their enthusiasm. Broken. And it wasn’t even April. It felt like a marathon had been run but the distance covered was about 3km.
Summoning our inner British grit and stiff upper lip, we take a deep breath and on we go. We find our rhythm. We follow the race etiquette. We stay at home. We protect the NHS and we hope we are saving lives.
The weeks sort of ticked along like miles. Really, really long miles. The sort of miles that chip away at your running form and turn you inside out and back to front. This little 5km, quickly becomes 10km and then stretches out a little further to, say, a double marathon. You make a promise never to sign up for anything ever again, because actually, it turns out, you hate running. These killer miles were however, happily punctuated with regular water stations known as Wine Wednesday or Thirsty Thursday to name only two out of the seven.
Spectators holding up funny quotes or memes make us snigger for a brief moment and bring us a little joy before we keep going.
Relief comes on an unexpected downhill; unexpected because we hadn’t really realised it was such an uphill slog to get to summer 2020. Summer! BBQs, seeing friends, amazing weather, Aperol spritz, lots of amazing soul runs in the hills!
Just like the best aid station you have ever passed through. A wonderful selection of ice cold drinks, gels that don’t upset your stomach and happy encouraging volunteers telling you that you look amazing and that you really have got this. I wish we could have spent more time there but onwards and upwards.
Still buzzing from the much needed boost of summer and in celebration the kids are finally back in school, we cruise ever so slightly blindly into autumn and winter. We round the corner and there with no warning, is a large natural elevation of the earth’s surface; an enormous hill. Meet Lockdown 2.0. Feeling suddenly fatigued and mentally exhausted, we start our ascent. Missing the crowd and the friendly faces of the aid station we plod wearily towards the top, head down, resigned to the pain. It’s time to dig deep.
We are still digging deep when Christmas appears on horizon like a roaring fire on a freezing cold night. It’s all we can think about. Naïve? Possibly. Regretful? Maybe for some. But for most of us at this stage it gave us the same boost as seeing family and friends supporting you on the race of your life. You know where they will be waiting and you literally can’t wait to see them… but actually, if you are honest with yourself, you are not quite sure you will make it. It has been such a slog and you know you are not looking your strongest. You really do need that pick me up though.
And then you see them and it’s wonderful. But it’s over in a flash. You’ve passed them and whilst the smile hovers on your face a while as you replay those magical seconds in your mind, that’s actually done now and all that is left is this dark resignation that it is just you and the finish line.
January 2021. It’s common in triathlon for race day plans to change. The swim might be cancelled due to bad weather and so the triathlon is suddenly a duathlon. The bike leg might get shortened or diverted because of an accident or flooding. In this mother of all races, January brought a change of course. A huge ginormous, mountainous diversion. Lockdown 3.0. The terrain is unforgiving. Everything hurts. It can feel like there is no support, like you are alone with the home-schooling, the financial worries, the loneliness, the anxiety. There is support though. You are not alone. Look carefully. There is kindness and altruism on every street. People are once again back in their own boats weathering the same storm, but most are happy to try and help. Try it. Lean on them. Be the one they can lean on and hold them up. Keep moving forward as it’s the only way out of this and be kind to yourself; eat as well as you can, try to get some quality sleep. Remember it is often the little things that can make you happy and make life easier.
Let’s just get through this final (hopefully!) lockdown and we are on the finishing straight. With the vaccine being rolled out as quickly as they say it is, our finish line is just ahead of us. Imagine the group of friends waiting for you to cross that line. Waiting with your favourite drink and, dare I say it, an enormous hug! You are most definitely on that podium. Be patient; good times and races much easier than this one, are coming.