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My lockdown marathon

12 July 2020

“I think I’ll run a marathon on Saturday morning”, I said to myself on Thursday evening. The weather looked good – sunny but cool for July. The last time I’d made this decision, four weeks ago, it was humid and 22 degrees by 7am; I gave up at 16 miles.

I didn’t train for this marathon. I mean, I did train for a marathon, but that was weeks ago in another world. A world of playdates and swimming lessons, commuting and cross-country. A world where races were cancelled because the wind was a bit too strong. At the one race I did I get to run – the Tarpley 20 – we huddled together in a school hall before the race, sharing pens and drinks, hugging our friends and, afterwards, helping ourselves from the open cake buffet with our sweaty fingers.

I didn’t train for this marathon, but over the course of the lockdown my weekend long run got steadily longer. I just couldn’t get enough of being outside. I went from 10 miles to 12 miles to 13 miles to 15 miles to 16 miles. I wasn’t running fast, I was taking as much time as I could get away with. I walked whenever I felt like walking. I found new paths and followed signs I’d never noticed before. I noted each bird returning from migration, I found bright blue eggshells, I took hundreds of photos and videos.

One Sunday, back when one piece of daily exercise was all we were permitted, I ran 7 miles to Castor Hanglands just to hear a nightingale. I walked for an hour when I got there, trespassing far beyond what I imagined my allotted time should be, squelching through mud in leaky trainers. Finally, I brushed across a carpet of dying bluebells to hear three nightingales exchanging  low warbles and high peeps of song, covering the range of sound in all directions. I was elated, guilty, satisfied, scared. I jogged home and lived off that moment for a week.

The roads and trails from Woodston to Castor along the River Nene, up from Ailsworth towards Helpston, over to Marholm and back through Ferry Meadows, have become stitched into my brain. I love them. I see them in my dreams. I’m not tired of them, even after running 26.2 miles on them this weekend. Yes, I finished the marathon this time.

It was not a typical marathon day. I got up at 4:45am, had some toast and coffee, left the house at 6:45am and was home by 10:35am. Even when I started, I didn’t feel like I was about to run a marathon. Every mile I wondered “will I finish it today?”. I was under no obligation. I hadn’t told anyone I was going to do it, and who would have cared even if I had? By 10 miles, I thought I could finish. I felt good, I was running a very sensible pace (for me) and it was just a long training run. At 23 miles I could definitely have stopped. But I wasn’t going to stop. I was fit, I was healthy, I was outside, I was alive.

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