I like using my birthday as an excuse for an adventure. Last year I completed the Bob Graham Round to kick start my 28th year; this year I had originally hoped to have a shot at another one of the UK’s now burgeoning list of long-distance running challenges.
But that was then, pre-covid, when driving long distances and meeting up with others to push yourselves in the mountains was a possibility, a desirable one even.
This is now, in a country where the daily death toll still often runs in double figures, and the thought of driving for hours to meet with others and run around in the mountains seems harebrained, irresponsible, unpatriotic.
A covid-considered adventure
Facing the minefield of covid guidelines and restrictions, it would be easy to rule out adventures altogether. After all, doesn’t adventure require pushing the comfort zone, undertaking something that you might not succeed in, challenging yourself to discover new things? That sort of language just doesn’t seem to fit with the current covid dialogue.
But we don’t have to travel far for an adventure; it doesn’t have to be risky; it doesn’t have to be social. With this in mind, I started thinking about the parameters of what a covid-considered adventure would look like (note that my birthday was on May 24th, so the considerations were based on the guidance and restrictions in place at that time):
The 7 Hills of Edinburgh
And so the idea of running the Edinburgh‘s very own Round came about, providing an enticing loop, ticking off the notorious 7 hills the city has to offer en route. (I should disclose at this point that I am a million miles away from being the first person to have run this route; there is in fact an annual race covering the route, complete with a website seemingly unchanged since the race’s inauguration in 1991, the true mark of any quality race)
The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I hadn’t thought of this route before. I suppose it’s because we neglect exploring what’s in our own backyard in favour of further flung adventures, and the ‘it’ll always be there/ another day’ mindset inevitably leads to it never getting done. But now there was no excuse.
The route starts and finishes at Calton Hill in the city centre of Edinburgh. Jogging up to the start, I embarrassingly realise that I have never actually been to the top before. It would be the first of many new discoveries on the day, the mark of a good adventure.
City of two halves
Running from Calton Hill takes us first up the Royal Mile; this time last year it would have been dog eat dog with swathes of tourists clambering over one another, but today it was tranquil, abandoned, serene.
Heading through the West End and out to Corstorphine takes us past grand Georgian townhouses and wide tree-lined avenues; were it not for the looming Arthur’s Seat behind it would be easy to think you’re in Mayfair.
The feeling of obsequious wealth is however short-lived. Descending from Corstorphine Hill takes us through Carrick Knowe, Stenhouse, Longstone, Craiglockhart. A house in Stenhouse will set you back an average of £151,298, compared to £514, 258 in Murrayfield. That’s over 3 times more in just over a mile. It’s an important reminder that not all of Edinburgh is the postcard perfect property, oozing historical wealth.
The privilege of living in Edinburgh
Reaching the top of Braid Hill provides a beautiful panoramic of the city, with the 6 other hills all visible, and the Firth of Forth looming beyond. Again it’s another hill I’ve shamefully never been to the top of until now, but it definitely won’t be the last time I’m here. Looking out over the city I’m reminded how privileged I am to live here,
how green it is,
the open space,
the sea so close,
the hills of the Pentlands on our doorstep,
and if we cross the Firth and drive north we can reach the Highlands in little over an hour.
Maybe the best adventures are those staring us right in the face.
Like every one of us 7.53 billion I’ve had plans change, work change, life change; everything has been thrown into the blender, is being spun around a good deal, and it just keeps on getting faster. That said, I am privileged and fully acknowledge that for me the adjustments of the covid-19 lockdown have not been too painful.
Sure I’d like to be running about in the mountains, wandering in the Highlands or the Alps and entering into social situations (gasp!) without the now ingrained distrust of ‘the outside’.
But that was then; this is now.
How we cope with the new normal will be different for each of us, but a challenge we all share is how to maintain positivity and motivation.
Here’s what I’m doing to keep the psych:
Start every day with a sun salutations/ (small) workout routine
No matter what I have on or how I’m feeling, I find starting the day with 5-10 minutes of exercise is incredibly grounding, calming my thoughts and setting me up for the day. I‘ve found the following to make for a nice morning lockdown routine:
Plan how to maximise the one bit of daily outdoor time
Having only one form of outdoor time per day has put a huge imperative on making my runs count. So I try to get 3 key sessions in each week - speed work, hills and long runs, supplemented with good old recovery plods on the other days.
Given that traditional commitment devices such as running with a friend or training with a club are mortifyingly social, I’ve found writing down these sessions at the beginning of the week to be an effective substitute. It’s incredible how strongly a piece of paper can hold you to account!
With everyone’s races and events cancelled ad infinitum, it would be easy to feel a bit directionless, leading to a vicious circle of sluggishness and feeling a bit (if not very) down, but keeping some objectives in mind can help combat this.
Firstly, does it actually matter that the official event in question is no longer going ahead? It’s possible to enjoy going for a run/ cycle/ other form of exercise without having a race in mind. I fundamentally see training as an end in its own right, not just a means to the end of a race/ competition.
But if just going for a run isn’t enough, social outlets such as Strava can provide good motivation:
Or how about a virtual race?
There are heaps of resources for excellent daily home workouts. I’ve found 15-30 minutes to be a realistic time to commit to one per day, providing a welcome respite from screen time, but also sustainable to keep doing every day and not feel overwhelming.
Inov-8 send out daily workouts via email; they’re sometimes a bit simple, but still provide some nice ideas (most importantly, every day!):
Training for the Uphill Athlete also has a huge bank of workouts available free online (slightly less user-friendly and harder to follow, but effective):
Nourishing food, taking the time taken to appreciate it, and sharing it with others has always been one of the key tenets of my lifestyle; now in lockdown it’s taken on an even more important role.
I’m finding it both fulfilling and empowering to search out new and interesting recipes, fine-tune ones we’ve tried before but never got quite right, and take the time to share with others (both recipe ideas and the fruits of our labour with neighbours).
Appreciate non-adventure thoughts
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I’ve been finding it liberating to devote time to things that aren’t about getting outside, trails to run, routes to climb or places to go. So much of my life is normally spent obsessing over these things, planning the next adventure, re-planning and then planning some more, it’s been liberating to break away from this.
I’ve particularly been enjoying the following:
And for those moments when I find myself wanting to escape and get inspired for the next adventure:
Time to cut the cake...