COVID-19 and Getting Outdoors

It was a strange loss of identity for me when COVID-19 hit our shores and a lockdown was imposed, back on the 23rd of March. I had spent the entire decade up to this point encouraging people to get outside more for the benefit of our health, and now, suddenly the reverse of that was true.

The catchy slogan of “JUST STAY INDOORS” was being flung around in earnest at this early stage, which I honestly found quite irritating at the time, as someone who understands the difference between getting outside, on your own, avoiding contact with any people or stuff; and getting outside, with a bunch of your mates, sunning yourself in a busy park with a couple of four packs of Tyskie…

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I later came to accept this annoying slogan, as much as it lacked nuance, I realized that in order for a message to be understood and absorbed by the greater population, simplicity, and ideally sticking to a strict wordcount of three, definitely helps.

When I really think about it, the thing that actually most annoyed me about this slogan, was not so much the content, but the group in society shouting it the loudest on social media. As someone who up until last year, spent four years of my life living in a tiny, one room bedsit with shared bathroom facilities, it feels oddly infuriating and patronising to be told by someone in a large house with a large garden to just stay indoors, like it was really simple.

3rd floor accommodation from 2015-19

As some of you readers may have picked up from my very subtle passive-aggressiveness here; I spent a lot of early lockdown following the rules, but simultaneously getting angry at a variety of different stuff. Right up to the point when we were allowed to get outside more often for exercise.

I feel extremely lucky, that there’s nothing I enjoy more than spending hours at a time, running around the middle of nowhere, completely by myself. Most people seem to have an uncontrollable need to be surrounded by company to feel comfortable, and I just don’t have that.

It is because of this trait, that I can’t help but notice, that outdoors is really busy at the moment. It’s busier than I have EVER seen it.

This, again, I found quite irritating at first, until I gave it some proper thought.

I have spent a good deal of my time and energy over the years, gently prodding people to get outside more, for the physical, and mental benefits. Suddenly, now we’ve been told NOT to, people are flocking to National Parks, Nature Reserves and Areas of Natural Beauty I would have often found empty before the lockdown.

One of my local stomping grounds is an area known as “The Roaches”. This area generally gets plenty of visitors anyway, but it is absolutely heaving at the moment.

The Roaches, Leek

You know a run is going to be a busy one, when the bit before it becomes completely off-road, you need to survive a friendly game of dodgems along the country lanes, with thousands of Land Rovers, driving endlessly up and down and parked all over the place.

I don’t know what it is about this country, how we seem to have collectively all been convinced, that anybody who lives vaguely near a narrow country lane, needs to drive an extra wide vehicle. For safety, or some shit.

But anyway, thousands of Land Rovers normally equates to thousands more people out on the trails.

This changes the running dynamic slightly, as you have to quickly accept that along narrow footpaths, you’re not going anywhere fast. Large groups of walkers up ahead won’t often hear you coming, and when they do, it often takes a little while for them to organise themselves.

A quieter day from last year

If it sounds like I’m being bitter here, I’m honestly not. When I’m running on the trails, I am rarely in a rush. Plus, if you get used to seeing the funny side each time you’re held up, miles can pass effortlessly.

Typically, when approaching walkers from behind; pre-covid, the generally accepted protocol here was to clear your throat, or do a little cough to let them know you’re there. These days, in the new corona world, I try more to offer a weak, but polite as possible “excuse me”.

Sometimes, 20 seconds or more of walking behind people can go by, trying patiently to get their attention, yet they still haven’t clocked you for whatever reason. This usually results in scaring the living daylights out of them as you try to squeeze past through the mud and nettles.

Another from last year. So grateful to have this on my doorstep!

Other times, the one at the back of the large group clocks you early, and will generously issue the order to the rest of the group to “scatter”.

At least I assume that’s what the order was, as everybody freezes in various positions across the path like a game of musical statues; creating a kind of slalom for you to navigate, as you try your hardest not to breathe out too much passing through.

Like I said earlier, it bothered me at first, that there were more people on my terf; like teetotallers in the pub at Christmas, but then I remember what I do for a living, and it all seems pretty cool. Most people out there are being very sensible, sticking to their own families, or small group of mates. Some seem less so, and are out in large parties of different households. I am even pretty chilled about that these days.

The more I’m reading at the moment on the subject, all seems to suggest that outdoor transmission is “probably” quite rare; even on packed beaches and parks. So, I’m trying my best to just enjoy the company that wasn’t there before. I always say hello to people as I run past, and I’ve even on occasion stopped for a bit of a chat.

I’m now happy, and somewhat amused at the irony, that so many people are now embracing the outdoors, based purely, in my view, on being told to “just stay indoors”.

I may have to start plugging the line that running is bad for the knees and you shouldn’t do it. See what happens.

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