The first time that London went into lockdown, spring came to the rescue. Skies were a soothing blue for day after day; even the temperature was higher than usual for the season. It meant that, with gyms closed, people took to using skipping ropes in the street, hanging from trees like fruit bats while stretching their backs, and dragging dumbbells to the park to do routines that deserved an Olympic category all of their own. This time – London is 10 days into a perhaps four-week gym-free stint – it’s different. It’s cold, it’s wet and there is no joyful skipping in the streets.
It also means that my yoga class has gone online and, last Saturday, I conceded defeat and joined in. I live in a small house. With a dog. The limitations of this setup soon became clear. Following one wobbly move, my foot fell to the floor, clipping the dog’s drinking water, which resulted in a puddle that coursed across my mat leaving it as slippery as an ice rink. And during the hour-long session the dog variously brought me a limbless teddy bear, a squeaking reindeer that looks as though it’s been hit by a truck, a stolen sock and what was once a happy caterpillar but now resembles someone’s dismembered intestines, and dropped them all at my feet hoping at least for a game of tug. It was when the yoga teacher asked me to mute the mic as the dog was disturbing the class that home yoga lost some of its appeal and my technical skills were once again revealed to be lacking.
That’s why, like lots of Londoners who really should know better and whose knees deserve more respect, I have welcomed back running’s sweaty embrace. In truth, I only ran into its arms because my neighbour was about to start training for a half-marathon and seemed happy to have someone older and less fit to accompany him for the early stages. I understand – it’s always useful to have a doddery sidekick hanging around if you need your self-confidence boosted.
Running, I am told, is spiritual, a time to think, an activity that leaves you feeling connected to nature, to the city. Maybe. After week one, I see it as being more about surprising chafing and a fear of inclines.
OK, there are some good things. For starters, our route takes us down to the Thames where we cross the Millennium Footbridge. That storied view downriver towards Tower Bridge catches me every time. When London is shuttered, when the damp and dark have settled in, the city can feel small, oppressive even, but as you cross the river on foot, you see that vista and know why this is your home. The only problem is that most of London seems to have arrived at the running party long before me and these riverside routes are packed with people darting along in snazzy running gear without the decency to look even a little red in the face.
Another good thing is pace. On our first run we headed off at a far too ambitious clip and for the final kilometre my thoughts were less spiritual and more along the lines of, “Would it be really bad if I got a cab?” Since then, however, we have found a rhythm that has allowed us to both go further and somehow faster, and I have stopped giving longing glances at passing taxis for hire. And perhaps that’s what this whole year has been about – finding a pace that works, putting one foot in front of another, building up some stamina, finding some untapped reserves. And chafing.