Yes, I am round. Yes, I am slow. Yes, I run as though my legs are tied together at the knees. But I am running. And that is all that matters.John Bingham
There’s a bewitching, twitchy feeling here this week, something almost crackly and palpable in the air like the electric storms that brewed here after two days of oppressively high heat. It’s like that moment when you’ve been hoping for good news but hardly dare listen just in case it’s the opposite, that instant when you dare to believe – hopefully, nervously – that there really is light at the end of the tunnel. A corner has been turned and in our valley, it feels like the collective release of a breath held for too long.
After seven difficult, anxious and emotional weeks, Spain has taken its first tentative steps along the phased pathway to lifting lockdown. There is no complacency here; the Asturian president, Adrián Barbón, has said it must be done with surgical precision and any hint of increasing infections or a second spike will see a swift return to us being back en casa. It will take a minimum of eight weeks at best but we have already been warned that we might not be able to leave Asturias until September. Vicky and her family will not be coming to stay here later this month and our trip in June to the UK for family celebrations then Norway to visit Sam and Adrienne are most definitely off, while the journey to my brother’s August wedding hangs in the balance. Disappointed and sad? Of course, but so be it; we all have to do our bit to keep ourselves and others safe. I realise this is part of the necessary adjustment we need to make towards accepting a ‘new normal’ whether we like it or not.
Meanwhile, back to this week and the joyful news that for the first time in 50 days, we were allowed out for exercise. There are restrictions in place for settlements with more than 5 000 inhabitants but in rural areas such as ours we can run or cycle any time between 6am and 11pm and can go as far as we like providing we don’t leave Valdés, the municipality in which we live. Conversely – and somewhat bizarrely- if we choose to go for a walk, we can’t wander any further than a kilometre from home. Running it is, then.
It was actually 51 days since I had last run, training in torrential rain for a 10k race that never happened. In the interim, I have at least been able to run in the barn (which is more than most of our running friends here could do) but it has been far from pleasant; the idea of being allowed out on the open road once again had me feeling slightly giddy, even a bit nervous if I’m honest. Still, Asturias does mornings rather well so how could I resisit such temptation?
Now, regular readers will be well aware of my somewhat turbulent relationship with running; I persist with it because I recognise the benefits it brings to my health and wellbeing and I always feel better for doing it . . . but, I’ve never quite been able to love it. Bit of a shock, then, if I am completely honest and admit that during the weeks of running deprivation, I actually missed it. Yes, truly. I did. I tried hard not to, obviously; I did my goldfish thing in the barn, followed a fantastic new yoga course and even started strength training with weights, something quite different and very challenging for me. I’m not sure whether I’m building impressive muscles but something must be happening because I now find I can use the most important of basic man tools without needing the man to go with it!
I’ve learnt that it’s possible to exercise and keep reasonably fit in straitened circumstances and I’m grateful for how much I was able to do, but the bottom line is this: there’s nothing quite so liberating as being out in the fresh air, footloose and fancy-free and drinking in the beautiful scenery around me (albeit it in an attempt to divert my attention away from the struggle of moving my body through space at something very loosely related to the idea of ‘speed’). Social distancing still applies of course, so I passed walking neighbours at broomstick distance . . . but what sheer joy, what huge beaming smiles, what indescribable bubbly happiness at seeing and greeting each other once again! We were like captive birds released from a cage, soaring skywards on ecstatic wings in blissful, unfettered freedom. Those were possibly the sweetest six kilometres of my life.
One of the benefits of having time to think more about running whilst not actually doing any is that I finally took the plunge and did something I’ve been considering for a while: I’ve joined the Lonely Goat Running Club. https://lonelygoat.com/ In truth, there wasn’t really any ‘plunge’ involved as I think it is a brilliant concept which, like Parkrun, is designed to make running accessible and enjoyable for anyone. Everyone, in fact. The idea is simple: it’s a recognised running club with affiliation to England Athletics available but not compulsory, and if like me, you opt not to register for affiliation, the club is totally free to join. There are no club meetings, no training sessions, no coaches, no championships, no league tables, nada. So what, you may well be asking, is the point?
Well, I believe it has filled a huge vacuum by providing a platform for mutual help and support for runners like myself who – for whatever reason – don’t want to join an orthodox club. The running scene in Asturias is fantastic and I enter occasional races to be part of that friendly and inspiring community and to challenge myself with personal goals (um . . . generally to arrive at the finishing line at some point, preferably on my feet) which give me the impetus to train.
However, I have struggled from the very beginning with the fact that the local runners are so amazingly speedy and I am terribly slow. While I am still wrestling with the demon that is my inability to master a sub-hour 10k, the other ladies in my age group breeze it in 50 minutes or under without so much as breaking into a sweat. It can be hard to keep going and keep smiling and yes, I know it’s the taking part and all that jazz that matters, but actually tight cut-off times matter too, especially if it means the threat of having to walk back to the start after being disqualified as a slowbie. So far I’ve just managed to scrape through – and I really, really mean scrape as in by a few seconds – but it’s tough. Roger is massively supportive and patient and I couldn’t do it without him but he’s a brilliant athlete and I’m not, so in the Lonely Goat RC I think I’ve found a huge network of running soul mates who feel my pain completely because they’re feeling it, too.
There is a social media chat forum which currently has over 17 000 (!) members; you don’t have to join it if you don’t want to and the idea is that if you do, then you dip in and out now and then rather than be a slave to everyone’s posts. There are no experts or show-offs or anybody trying to score points, just a group of incredible people getting out to run despite whatever obstacles are thrown in their way. It’s all about friendship and encouragement, shared elation and commiseration, about people finding a little bit of time in their busy lives to be decent human beings towards one another. How amazing and inspiring is that? When I posted a couple of photos from my first run after lockdown, I was overwhelmed to receive more than 700 likes and almost 70 comments from people who simply wanted to share my joy. We might run as Lonely Goats but we are very definitely not alone. Oh, and I was chuffed to find there is a little herd in Spain, too!
Like affiliation and chat group membership, there is no onus to buy a club strip, either, but I liked the idea of doing at least something to support the organisation so I have bought a vest (which I was delighted to find had been made from 100% recycled polyester). I had a big decision to make over badge colour, with blue, green, purple, pink and yellow on offer. What should I go for? Well, in the end I plumped for purple, partly with Jenny Joseph’s wonderful ‘Warning’ poem in mind (not that I think I am an old woman just yet) but mostly because I suspect Annie would never have forgiven me if I’d gone for anything else!
There’s a lot of friendly Goat banter about the different colours but they don’t actually mean a thing: whichever colour you choose, it’s still one big team. I wore my new vest out for that first run; I stood in the lane on our mountainside and heard the rhythmic scratching of crickets and the screeching of swifts in the valley below and the nervous beating of my heart; I took in an enormous breath of rose-scented air, smiled to myself then launched myself like a crazy child down the steep slope. It felt like I was part of something good.
The 10k race I was training for on the 21st March has been moved to the 20th June; of course, there’s every chance it won’t be allowed to go ahead but I’m training for it anyway. If and when it happens, I shall wear my Lonely Goat vest with pride and an immense feeling of gratitude that I am alive and healthy and able to run through the stunning Asturian landscape with a wonderful bunch of equally
daft like-minded people . . . and you know what? I won’t be giving that wretched sub-hour goal a single thought. Not one. 🙂