Lockdown 9/Furlough 6: socially distanced exercise

As I travel down to Penrith once a week anyway to drop the kids off at their Dad’s, it seemed fair enough that I could – now we’re allowed to meet up in a socially distanced way with one other person – go running with Penny again. She’s been really busy through lockdown, working long hours – as has her husband even though theoretically he has part-time work – and so not only had we not seen each other for a while, but we had only spoken once.

You never know quite what people’s attitudes are going to be about meeting up, even when you’re sticking to the rules: fortunately Penny’s take on it is much the same as mine, and we arranged to go for a run on Askham Fell. We’ve run up there several times before – for Penny and Tim it’s a fairly regular route, or was before lockdown – and I left Brampton on a fairly grey, dull afternoon and travelled down the motorway to Penrith.

Just 20 miles or so further south, Penrith was lovely and sunny. The kids jumped out of the car and I went a couple of miles further through Askham to Helton and up on to the Fell (Penny and I met in the centre of Askham, which for those of you who don’t know it is one of those lovely old Cumbrian villages with stone cottages and a river (the Eamont) at the bottom of the hill. There are also some quite average modern houses, and the village also benefits from an outdoor swimming pool which is normally open in the summer).

With the lack of rain recently the Fell was really dry: even places where there would have been large puddles/small ponds had dried up, becks were running lower than normal, and boggy bits of the Fell were firm and dry. I love the feeling of being out in the open and up high, and whilst Askham Fell may not be particularly high in terms of the Cumbrian Fells generally, it provides some glorious views of Ullswater. It was one of those evenings when it would have been nice to have sat down outside in the sun after running and to have had a picnic (with of course a nice chilled glass of prosecco or similar): as it looked as if two guys, also socially distancing (like us, in two separate vehicles), who ran past us were going to do.

As we ran Penny suggested that the ground was so good and the weather so lovely that it might be time to do a long-planned run: High Street (an old Roman route) from end to end.

On Wednesday I was still feeling full of energy and optimism from Tuesday’s run and decided I’d do a brick session (bike then run); on Thursday I went out on my bike and did the previous day’s bike ride in reverse, this time to stop to take some photos as the sun shone down on the Northern Pennines and the Lake District fells could be seen in the background. All was green and white: hawthorn, elderflower and cow parsley in white bloom against the green of the hills and fields. On Friday I was due to meet up with a friend and go open water swimming in the river Tyne, but my car got a puncture and I could only book it in for 4pm: too late to get over for swimming, but perhaps just as well as the weather had become extremely windy.

I was hoping it would calm down overnight but it didn’t, and the forecast for further south and into the central Lake District area – where we were due to start the High Street run – was even worse. As we’re busy clocking up the km to raise funds for Cumbria Mountain Rescue, we didn’t feel that risking potentially being rescued ourselves – or worse still, blown off the top of a Fell – would be that good an idea. We met on Askham Fell and went for an incredibly wet, windy and cold 7 mile run roughly over the same ground as Tuesday’s run but with a lot more bogginess. We had thought of going as far as Loadpot Hill and then dropping down to Howtown before coming back on the lower path (part of the Ullswater Trail) but decided that retracing our footsteps over familiar ground was probably a better idea. High Street can wait for better weather.

Reading and thinking

I finished The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared this week, which I really enjoyed – I then watched the film which was nothing like as good as the book. I’m now reading Monisha Rajesh’s Around the World in 80 Trains. She makes the point that not only do you see more travelling by train than you do when flying, but actually you also need to be selective about which trains you use: bullet trains etc. just swoosh you along so fast that the countryside is a blur and you don’t see anything that way either.

The book fits in rather well with having watched Race Across the World on the BBC iPlayer, where contestants have to travel 1000s of miles and cannot use planes: they also have a limited budget. The first series was definitely a race, and I felt it would have been nice to have seen more of the places the teams went through. In the second series the teams wanted to experience some of the places they went through – which led to one team running out of money on the penultimate leg – which I felt was a far healthier attitude and made for a far more interesting series (the winners also gave at least half of their winnings to south American charities, or at least said they were going to).

This, along with coronavirus lockdown, has reminded me once more of one reason I moved to Cumbria and of why, much as I need a job which I find mentally stimulating and which I enjoy, I also want time to do the things which are important to me. City life down south – or perhaps city life generally – is incredibly rushed. People rush not to be late to work, or rush to get home, tired after rushing through tons of emails at work (and often, I think, generating more work for themselves or for others in the process); buildings are thrown up as quickly as possible in order to get rent in as soon as possible, or to sell the property and move on to the next development; we all zoom around in cars or on trains, getting frustrated by traffic jams or the slow driver in front of us.

Monisha Rajesh puts it very well in her book, with words which I am completely in accord with, and I hope she won’t mind if I quote her here. She’s talking about her thoughts having been watching old women doing t’ai chi in Hanoi:

“As a people we’d become obsessed with speed, checking our watches, glancing at the clock, running for the Tube, inventing bullet trains, faster internet and instant coffee, yet where was the extra time we were saving? And what were we doing with it? If speed was improving our lives, then why were the days busier, longer and harder, our minds overburdened and tired?… Leaving my job, my home and my possessions had quietened the noise in my head… The less I carried, the less I worried.”

Monisha Rajesh, Around the Globe in 80 Trains

Obviously there are problems with lockdown, primarily economic: and yet the flip side is that it has given the entire planet a ‘pause’, or at least those who aren’t working silly hours. And yet as soon lockdown was eased just a small amount, there were pictures of crowded commuter trains, reports of airlines being angry about quarantine, and the fear that people would flock to beauty spots for the bank holiday weekend. But working from home should give people an extra hour or two each day, if not longer: for me I’ll use that time to do yoga and keep running more regularly than I am able to when I’m commuting to Newcastle. But perhaps at the end of the day we humans just find it incredibly difficult to strike a balance; to hit a happy medium. We certainly seem to find it difficult not to want ‘stuff’ when we see all that people around us have, and as soon as time is freed up we fill it with something else. I wonder what Ms Rajesh is doing having got back home from her travels…