A thread to hold on to
This newsletter was originally posted on Patreon on 2 November 2020
Here in the UK right now, in south-west England, it can feel a little like the world is on the brink. A new national lockdown was announced on Saturday, with Covid deaths rising again and no end of this pandemic in sight. On top of this, Brexit and the potential chaos it could bring looms large. Over in America, Trump supporters are riding around in pickup trucks like pirates, trying to ram buses off the road, while Walmart has stopped selling guns and ammunition in anticipation of the events about to unfold (explode) in the next few weeks. On top of all that, storms battered our little corner of the country all weekend, with gale force winds and driving rain leaving roads and paths flooded and tree branches down everywhere.
Just to add a little seasoning to the general pre-apocalpse mood, I've just taken voluntary redundancy from my secure part-time job as a news editor at the Guardian. So from now on it's just me and my words to keep our little ship afloat. Great timing there, Captain.
Yet, through all this chaos, I feel a core of positivity glowing at the centre. I was amazed over the summer by the incredible spate of FKTs that happened across the world. These are Fastest Known Times - aka records - on famous long-distance trails or routes. Just in the UK, we had records set on the 630-mile south-west coast path, on the iconic Land's End to John O'Groats (men and women's records), the 268-mile Pennine Way, the Ramsay Round, and a women's Bob Graham Round record. Then we had world records on the track at 5,000m for men and women, 10,000m for men, while on the roads three women went under the old world record in the world half marathon championships. The list goes on and on.
What I realised is that while many of us switched down a gear or two during the first global lockdown, took a slow breath, and perhaps sat there worrying about the future, all these runners saw not a problem, but an opportunity. These were all professional athletes seeing their livelihoods shrinking - in the form of races being cancelled. But they kept running. That simple act of moving through a landscape, of filling your lungs, getting your heart pumping, feeling alive and full of energy. They just kept going. Not just ticking over, but pushing on, looking for a space to express themselves. Just because we can't race, they thought, doesn't mean we can't run.
Of course, we can't all go chasing records, but running offers us all the chance to keep going, to move forward, to keep hold of that thread that connects us to our core, to our essence, and right now to our sanity. Also to our past and our future, and to ourselves.
So this weekend, rather than look out of the window on Sunday morning at the blustering rain, and think, "there's no point", I dug out the trail shoes with the deepest lugs, and I headed out to the woods. And when I came to the mud and the puddles, I didn't skirt and tiptoe around the edge, I piled straight through. In fact I was having so much fun that as I neared the end of my run, I doubled back on myself and went and did another lap.
I came home invigorated. Of course I did. We all know, after a run, why we do it. Before I had left, my son, sitting on the sofa playing a game on his phone, had asked me why I love running so much. I hadn't been able to give him a convincing answer. "Because it's fun," I said, not really feeling it at that moment.
But now, covered in mud, glowing with energy, ready for pancakes and coffee ... now I felt it. Because it makes me feel alive. It gives me hope. And because, amid the chaos, it provides simplicity, stability and a sense of calm.