I recently watched what was probably my children’s last rugby fixture to go ahead for the foreseeable future due to the Coronavirus outbreak but at least it was very memorable. Last weekend, I joined a slightly inebriated crowd of students at The City Varsity to watch the annual rugby head-to-head, clearly before social distancing was trending. As I watched Imperial College London’s1st team pummel the London School of Economics, rival crowds swayed and chanted to each other in a leery competition of who could sing the loudest and most outrageous lyrics. With the final whistle of the match, everyone surged onto the pitch to continue their messy celebration with the teams. After finding my son among his fellow players and congratulating him, he embraced me in a massive bear hug while coughing furiously. I reeled back in alarm and looked at him but he said quite confidently, ‘Don’t worry, it’s mucous-y!’ before grabbing me again.
Of course, it was only a matter of days before the rapid spread of Coronavirus caused mass cancellations and postponements of every kind of fixture and event. For myself, the Boston Marathon and my backup marathon (Rightmove MK Marathon) are now postponed until September whilst the 100km Race to the Stones in July is currently under review. But whether you have been training for a particular event, play on a team or look forward to the camaraderie of your weekly parkrun you will share the huge disappointment and feel more than frustrated to have it all taken away, even if you understand the reasons why. However, unless you are self-isolating or are relishing the chance to finally take a break from working out, there is more reason than ever to keep up your training.
After all, we should count ourselves ‘lucky’ compared to some of our European neighbours. It is worth remembering that although the UK government has advised against all social gatherings at least there are still no restrictions on exercising outdoors. And this is no small thing. In Spain, which has declared a state of emergency, they are living under a total Coronavirus lockdown. My father-in-law discovered that this means that if you try to take the long way home from the bakery to simply stretch your legs while you are self-isolating, the police will stop you.
But back here in the UK, at the moment, no one can stop you from sticking to your training plan even if you do not have a particular goal in mind other than the ability to eat more cake. You can continue to do your own weekly parkrun right from your doorstop and provided you keep your distance from like-minded runners, there’s no reason not to. Use it as a chance to explore different routes and terrain. If you need motivation to run solo, pop on some headphones and listen to your favourite music, a gripping podcast or an audiobook of something that you have never had the chance to read. You will be surprised just how far you can run when you are distracted.
If you were training for a longer event that was suddenly cancelled then it is still worth trying to do it closer to home. After all, think of all of the hard work of training that you have put in for so many weeks and months…Running in torrential rain and badly named storms, the amount of sweat and laundry you produced, and the blisters and number of pairs of blister-proof socks you have invested in. Are you really going to let this Coronavirus beat you?!
This is not to say that running your unofficial ‘race’ will live up to the real thing. Doing a 10km run from home while being ignored by even the neighbourhood cats is slightly different from running through the Olympic Park on a course lined with manically cheering spectators. And you would have got a medal AND a t-shirt. But you will still feel proud to have achieved the distance and rightly so! There will always be more races in the future and having this one under your belt will put you in a pretty good place when you sign up for the next challenge.
For those of us whose marathons have been postponed until the Autumn, it is absolutely crushing. Without a doubt, you are already an absolute warrior to have done the training up until now. But after all of the difficult, never-ending, unexpectedly undulating long runs you have completed and the ones that you did with a stinking, snotty cold or when you realised you were wearing completely the wrong kit half-way out, are you really going to let this beat you? This Coronavirus can jog on.
Take a breath, get outside and keep your fitness up. You can still to stick to your training plan and run your own FU Coronavirus marathon in the Spring. Or make a new training plan that puts you in prime condition to smash that Autumn marathon.
Lastly, as Coronavirus chaos is making even the simplest task of buying your groceries feel like you are competing in an extended episode of Supermarket Sweep, it is more important than ever to get outside. Whether you are a runner or not, getting regular exercise will help you stay healthy, boost your immune system and is hugely beneficial to your mental health. Above all, at a time of social distancing you must get outside precisely because you will see that you are not alone. Take care of yourself.
Now for the recipe. I may have to wait until September to run the Boston Marathon but that doesn’t mean I can’t pre-empt some of the meals I look forward to eating. This is a veggie twist on the original but a very satisfying Boston baked beans with beer. Whether you choose to make it with Corona beer is optional…