From Backyard Marathons to Ultras: Running through Lockdown (& through Life)

Last weekend I received a notification via various social media platforms that it was two years since I ran the first half of London to Brighton (56k). At the time, this was my first ultramarathon and my longest run. A lot has happened since then – in running, and in life. Since this point, I’ve completed two more ultra marathons, a trail marathon, and a further two road marathons – achieving that elusive sub 4. All this with copious half marathon, 10kms 5kms scattered in between. (Cheers Runthrough!)

But, somewhere along the way something changed. I used to care a lot about my running performance, about my progress, and in particular, about my times. Pretty much every race I went to, I’d hit it hard. I was always looking to improve my 5k, 10k, and half marathon PBs. But now, 13 months on, I realise I’m no-where near as bothered about that kind of thing. If I never get back to running the times that I was pre-knee injury last December, I don’t mind. Constantly training to be a faster and ‘better’ runner is exhausting, and I don’t have the time and energy to invest in it right now.

That said, if what you’ve taken from this is that I’m running less, or that I’m falling out of love with running, you couldn’t be more wrong. Actually, I’m loving running right now. It, more than anything else, has helped keep me sane during these challenging times. It’s just, my goals are different now. In the spirit of this, my lockdown miles have been plentiful (approx 125 this May) and pretty much all complete at a comfortable, easy pace. (Whatever that feels like on any given day.)

Somewhere, over the past couple years, I’ve started to focus less on finish lines and finish times, and more on the journey in between. And honestly, it’s transformed my attitude to running, and alongside that the enjoyment I get out of it.

Since 2018, running has taken me places that I never thought I’d be able to run. Including the Breacon Beacons, and the peaks of the Lake District. Never, ever did I think I’d be a runner capable of running marathons up mountains – let alone running further than a marathon – let alone summiting 3 mountains in the course of one race!

Don’t get me wrong, these were far from easy (and these two events probably deserve a blog post to themselves). In fact each subsequently became the hardest thing I’ve done. And yet, I loved them. So entirely – without a doubt these are two of my favourite races with the very best of running memories wrapped up in the experience. I love being surrounded by miles upon miles of stunning scenery. I love the peace and the tranquility, just you and yourself (ok, and usually Rob as well) continuing to put one foot in front of the other, and slowly…slowly…getting closer to that final destination. I love that the competitive spirit of road races seems to be overtaken by a spirit of camaraderie, a desire to support and cheer for others taking on the same mammoth task as you.

During both of these races I cried – and I probably did so more than once. But I still loved it. I loved pushing myself to my limits – being unsure if I was asking too much of myself, having to question and doubt whether I was actually going to complete..before completing it anyway… and, then comes what I love most of all…the unrivalled feeling of pride and achievement (coupled with complete overwhelm and utter exhaustion) that you can ride high on for weeks.

At the start of May this year, we’d signed up for our biggest challenge yet. 106km around the circumference of the Isle of Wight of two days. (The ambition by the way being – to tackle 100km straight out next year and then start to build toward maybe maaaaybe being in a position to tackle an 100 miler at some point in my life. That is my long-term, ultimate goal. Is that even achievable? Will I ever do it? Will I ever even try it? Who knows, but there, I’ve said it. Now you know.) Then Covid19 struck, followed by lockdown. And this race, my ‘A’ race for the year – was cancelled.

I was disappointed (not least because we’d planned a family trip to IoW around it) but also because it was 8 months since our last ultra. And I couldn’t wait to push myself harder, try to run further, and feel all those ultra-run feels once more. So, I set about thinking how I could replicate a similar physical and mental challenge for us during lockdown.

A short time later…the backyard marathon was born! 26.2 miles or 880 lengths of our back yard. It was gruelling, mentally more than physically. There’s only so much distraction and excitement you can glean from running back and forth over the same 48 metres time and time again!  Turning so constantly wasn’t easy on the knees either. Still, I completed it – my slowest ever marathon in just under 5 hours! I blame the rest station. Possibly spent a bit too much time snacking! In addition to the high quality rest stop, the medals (purchased on Etsy) were also on point.

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I’m really glad we did this. To be honest, it was one of the highlights of lockdown. I felt very safe in the knowledge that at that moment in time there was literally nothing more worthwhile I could be doing than running up and down my garden repeatedly! (This is important as in normal every day life I often get FOMO and wonder whether running and the sacrifices I make to prioritise it are always the best uses of my time). And I got a medal. And a cool story. So, a definite win.

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As a challenge, the Backyard Marathon felt right for me – after 26.2 miles in such conditions, I was done – but it paled in comparison to what I’ve seen other runners achieve over this lockdown period. From completing a marathon around your sofa, to  5 marathons in 5 days around your garden, to running 100 miles on a treadmill. I’m in awe. But, whatever your level of running, whatever you’re looking to get out of it, with a little imagination there are plenty of ways to challenge yourself during lockdown, and invest your time and energy in to something that you wouldn’t usually have the time or motivation to undertake. Or not. If you want to use this time to take a well deserved rest, that’s 100% ok too.

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