‘I feel alive and free’: the joy of lockdown running

Seven runners reveal the discoveries on their doorsteps, how it’s helped them through lockdown, and the distant trails they hope to hit before long

Michel Roux Jr: ‘Wherever I go in the world, I take my trainers and a pair of shorts’

I run 5 or 10k three or four times a week. I find it really relaxing: I come back physically tired but mentally energised. Running is a great release, a stress reliever, especially during lockdown. It is more than a pastime; it is part of my wellbeing routine – it’s vital for mental health.

I live in south London and I think I know every single backstreet by now! We are very lucky in London to have so many green spaces to run in, such as Clapham Common, Wandsworth Common and Battersea Park.

Running is a wonderful way to visit a city. Wherever I go on my travels, anywhere in the world, I always take my trainers and a pair of shorts. You see parts of a place that you wouldn’t otherwise.

I absolutely adored running in Monaco when I visited my daughter, who was working there. Promenade le Corbusier is an amazing route from Monaco to Menton, a French town that is famous for its lemons. It is right on the coast and the scenery is breathtaking. At times the path is very narrow, and there is a sheer drop down to the ocean, so it’s extremely exhilarating. It’s also extremely tough.

Everyone is dreaming about the day we can travel again. I’d love to be in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, running on the beach.
Michel Roux Jr is a two-star Michelin chef at Le Gavroche in London

Rachel Ann Cullen: ‘Running has saved my mental health’

Rachel Ann Cullen

I run most days and have done throughout lockdown. Initially I ran shorter routes closer to home, often with my daughter. We moved to a new house between the first and second lockdown, and I took the opportunity to explore my new area and find some routes covering various distances and terrain. We’re very lucky to live in a beautiful part of Yorkshire, with endless off-road, hilly routes and a canal towpath virtually on our doorstep. I gradually built up my distances and ran the virtual London Marathon from my front door on 4 October. It was a brilliant day.

Running makes me feel alive and free. I can press “pause” on any anxiety I might have and spend time in nature, whatever the weather – I even run in snow. It makes me feel immensely grateful for my health and fitness and it gives me an inner resilience that I otherwise might struggle to find on difficult days. I honestly believe that running has saved my mental health throughout this pandemic – it makes sense to me when little else at the moment does.

I’ve been very fortunate to run in some incredibly beautiful places, from Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees to the dusty tracks of remote villages in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. But honestly, I love running here, where I live. Those mornings when the sun hits the water glistening on the canal, and the view of the rolling hills on a bright day, are so incredibly beautiful, I couldn’t wish to be anywhere else.
Rachel Ann Cullen is the author of Running for My Life. She is writing a new book about people who have been helped by running. To share your story, contact her on Instagram

Daniel Lieberman: ‘My favourite runs are always with a friend’

Daniel Lieberman competing in the Man against Horse Race in Arizona.
Daniel Lieberman competing in the Man against Horse Race in Arizona in 2016. Photograph: I Wallace

I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I have mostly been running along the beautiful Charles River, which separates Cambridge from Boston. I have also been running along parts of the Boston Marathon course.

I love the sequence of diverse physical and emotional feelings that running elicits. No run is fun at first (at least not for me). But after a mile or so, as my metabolism and muscles warm up, I often experience a sort of magical sensation of almost flying without effort. Despite the exertion and my increasingly slow and middle-aged body, I feel I was meant to run. As the miles pass, my mind meanderingly meditates on this and that, while I absorb the various sights, sounds and smells along my route. When I occasionally push the pace or distance, it’s hard, but I remind myself that it’s a privilege to be able to do this, and that good stresses lead to good responses. In all my years, I have never gone out for a run and then finished feeling that I wished I hadn’t.

I am fortunate to have had the chance to run all over the world. I enjoy running along the Thames and the Seine and in Central Park just as much as I have enjoyed running in the Serengeti, the Sierra Tarahumara, the redwood forests of northern California, the Australian outback and the fjords of Greenland. Regardless of the location, my favourite runs have always been with a friend.
Daniel Lieberman is the author of Exercised: The Science of Physical Activity, Rest and Health

Paul Sinton-Hewitt: ‘Parkrun taught me to revel in the outdoors’

Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt in Richmond Park.
Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt in Richmond Park. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Drăgoi/The Guardian

During the pandemic, my running has changed. At the start of the first lockdown, I was training for an ultra-marathon. Seeking to celebrate my 60th birthday with an event I would normally consider madness, I was running almost every day of the week and covering 50 miles or more a week. The solitude of lockdown was ideal for those long solo runs from Windsor to Twickenham, south-west London, where I live.

By the end of the first lockdown, I knew that the ultra-marathon was not going to happen. I reverted to three or four little riverside runs, or runs in the park. Now I am down to one or two runs a week, no longer than about 5km and counting as my (not) parkrun.

At 60, running is no longer easy. Perhaps I should start that again … running has never been easy, but it is something that I have been able to do all my life. The fact that I found it hard and persevered has been part of the reward. Parkrun has taught me to revel in the outdoors and the company of my fellow participants. A run always cheers me up, fills me with optimism and leaves me proud that I am still able to do such things. Long may it continue.

My favourite race of all time was the Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon in Cape Town. It had long been a bucket-list run for me and it is one of the most beautiful places in the world to run. But, as that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I’d have to say that I love my local Bushy Park. Its rural setting, the deer and the accessibility to off-road running (while at the same time not being quite as challenging as nearby Richmond Park) means that this is my favourite place to run.
Paul Sinton-Hewitt is the founder of parkrun

Lisa Williamson: ‘I hate the first 10 minutes, tolerate the middle 20 and love the final stretch!’

Lisa Williamson

I’m lucky enough to live near several green spaces in south-east London, so I’ve been alternating loops of Charlton Park and Woolwich Common (nice and flat) with circuits of Greenwich Park (not so flat). The latter, with its majestic views over the city, is a particular pleasure to run around.

I tend to hate the first 10 minutes or so, tolerate the middle 20 and love the final stretch! I used to listen to podcasts or audiobooks on my runs, but just lately, with time out of the house being so precious, I’ve been enjoying just taking in my surroundings without the need for extra distractions.

I’ve been in love with New York City ever since my first visit at the age of 19, and have always nursed the fantasy of one day living there. On my most recent visit, determined to feel like a local, I started my mornings with a run around Central Park (the full loop is a rather perfect 10k). I don’t think I fooled anyone into thinking I was just another Manhattanite out for their morning jog (stopping mid-run to buy a massive pretzel probably gave me away), but I was having far too much fun to care either way.
Lisa Williamson is an author. Her latest book is First Day of My Life

Adharanand Finn: ‘Running has gone from a time trial to a wonderful adventure’

Adharanand Finn on a parkun in Bovey Tracey, Devon.
Adharanand Finn on a parkun in Bovey Tracey, Devon. Photograph: SWNS.com

From my bedroom window, in a small cottage on the edge of Totnes in Devon, I can see the wilds of Dartmoor in the distance. The moor is one of my favourite places to run, but lockdown forced me to find new routes closer to home.

Running from my door, I discovered a hidden network of green lanes threading between the fields; ancient rights of way, rutted tracks wide enough for two horses to pass, and usually banked on either side with tall hedgerows. It was fun to run down them, not knowing where they would emerge. One came out in an eerily quiet valley. As I ran along, a ruin rose like Dracula’s castle above the treetops. It turned out it was Berry Pomeroy castle, less than two miles from my house. I never even knew it was there.

One of the best things about lockdown is that it has turned running from a regular time trial in search of fitness into a wonderful adventure down mysterious rabbit holes, and a hidden world of quiet brooks and dappled sunlight – and recently lots and lots of mud – right under my nose.

In normal times, I love to smell the sea and catch the breathtaking views at every turn on almost any section of England’s South West Coast Path. Another of my favourite places to run is Iten in Kenya. Running there is to experience the beating heart of the running world: the rolling dirt roads, the children skipping along effortlessly beside you, and the huge groups of super-fast athletes cruising by in every direction.
Adharanand Finn is the author of The Rise of the Ultra Runners

Kate Carter: ‘I return from a run feeling like I’ve properly travelled’

kate carter in panda gear
Kate Carter, record-breaking London Marathon panda. Photograph: SUPP

When lockdown first started, running was a beautiful but surreal window in the day. I often listen to music when I run, because I run in London, and what I block out is mainly traffic noise, not the sounds of nature. But suddenly, the roads were so quiet you could hear birds. So quiet you could hear rather too much of your own breathing, actually. I put the music back on.

I became oddly fond of running down the A3 from Wandsworth, ignoring Wimbledon Common’s lovely trails to head down the tarmac towards Kingston. In normal times, that would be like inhaling straight from an exhaust pipe, but nothing was normal. Occasionally, I went the other way, into central London. From South Kensington’s silent museums to Trafalgar Square, via Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus, I barely saw another human. All those photographs of central London you try to take but there’s just too many people? I have them. It was both magical and deeply wrong. I’m glad I saw it like that, but I’m not sure I ever want to again.

Central London is still wonderful to run in now, albeit a little less like the aftermath of an apocalypse film. When you don’t need to be so alert to navigating other street traffic, you start seeing things anew; every run a tourist run. You look up, not down, and return feeling like you’ve properly travelled. It’s a wonderful lift to the monotony of our days.

Though, given a time machine and/or a teleport device, I would whisk myself away at once to the trails of New Zealand’s national parks, or to the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto, implausibly perfect cherry blossoms framing the narrow canal.
Kate Carter is the world’s fastest panda


Rachel Dixon

The GuardianTramp

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