COVID-19 brought new urgency to the idea of getting healthier, for me. I’d been thinking about it, talking about it, and very nearly getting around to doing it since July 2019. Well, way before then actually – it went on the to-do list as I recovered from a major depressive episode that floored me in 2013. In those days I’d swim in the sea in January and run for hours on the Moors at the weekend just for fun. And to give me room to eat more bourbon creams, but mostly for fun. Healthier means more active, for me.
Way back at the start of lockdown, I was conscious that as the nation clapped for the NHS there was a smaller army of key workers that weren’t receiving the same support. An army of organisations and volunteers (in many cases) that depended on charitable donations to provide life-changing services. Their ability to raise funds was diminished, while the need for their help grew. I wanted to combine getting healthy with highlighting this need and making a difference, however small.
Fondly remembering running ultra-marathons back in the day (my last was in 2012 – 60 miles along the South West Coastal Path), I resolved to get a similar distance under my belt. With pretty much all events cancelled because of the coronavirus, I figured actually I had my pick of pretty much anywhere, if the lockdown eased enough to allow me to trot on my own. So, where to run? And who to run for? When?
My Dad died on the 24th July 2019 after a long battle against a tangled web of chronic conditions. My birthday is on the 25th. I knew this would be a tricky time of year now, not just in 2020, but every year from here on in as my birthday rolled around. To my way of thinking, I could re-define what this day meant. Not just the day my Dad died – it would become the day I did something positive in his memory. ‘When’ was sorted.
Not that long before Dad died, we’d talked about my plans to get fit again and I said I was looking to trot across The Ridgeway. 87.5 miles of chalky paths, tracks and the odd bit of road, it runs from near Avebury (famous for its stone circles) to Ivinghoe Beacon. If you’re interested in the Iron Age and you’re not in a hurry, it’s a great way to absorb some history. The route goes through Wendover, where my Dad’s side of the family all live and I thought it’d be great to see my Nan and share a scone as I pass through. ‘Where’ was decided.
‘Who for’ fell into place as I thought about the people I know and love. Domestic abuse has been a factor for many of them, very sadly. I won’t speak much of the experiences I’m aware of, as those loved ones are still dealing with the emotional scars. Domestic abuse impacts men and women – I’ve been witness to both – so I chose to raise money for Refuge and the ManKind Initiative at the same time. I had some feedback that this is controversial and muddied the message, but I feel strongly that reality isn’t binary and we must acknowledge that.
By mid-May I’d settled on what I was doing and just needed to get fit enough to cover nearly 90 miles on foot and without rest. During lockdown. How hard could it be?
The first bits of training were simple enough. I couldn’t run very far or for very long, so I didn’t need to go far from the house. What would’ve been ideal is if my house was on or near some flat in these early sessions, but I live in Sheffield. Flat happens in other cities! Most of these early trots were in the wee hours of the morning – usually just gone midnight, to avoid bumping into anyone. Twice I was spoken to by the police for looking a little shifty at around 2am, as there was a spate of burglaries going on nearby!
By the end of April I could get pretty far from my house on a run and I was edging into the Peak District. So, so worth it for the views. Also for the emptiness before we were all allowed to travel again in cars. A lot of folks call me a people person and while I do enjoy a giggle, there is very little I love more than a wide open landscape with nobody else in it. It means I can smash out my bad dance moves and sing along to the running tunes without worry. I am not a smooth criminal.
By mid-May I was really rolling with the training, running three hours without difficulty and going up and down local granite edges to make things a bit tougher. Then, on the 18th, my Nan died. This, for me, was heart-wrenching. A body blow. One of the most incredible people I’ve ever known was gone, quite suddenly, and I wouldn’t be sharing scones with her ever again. This completely took the wind out of my sails. Looking for positives, I was pleased that her love of bourbon creams has been passed on.
Time doesn’t stop, even if we might want it to – so I got back to lacing up the trainers and putting in the miles by mid-June. By the start of July I could slowly trot a marathon distance around the Peaks and a friend who’s completed a few ultras kindly came down from Leeds to put me through my paces. Two lessons stick out from this time – one, pack a waterproof; two, don’t run in a cycling top that rides up. My good friend will forever be called Britney now, for his daring tummy flashes across the miles!
22nd of July, and my beloved had found a recipe to make something tasty for me to munch on during the long trot. Oats, peanut butter and jam – perfect. One of the hardest things about running very long distances is keeping fuelled up. You’ve got to eat while you’re on the move and you drink all the time on hot days. Getting the tummy okay with being jiggled about and eating anyway is a matter of practice, and getting used to reflux. You can’t be afraid of discomfort.
With a couple of days till the run, I figured this would be a good time to really look at the map and come up with a plan!
(Photo of me and Britney, somewhere near Upper Burbage Car Park in the Peak District)