We’re back in lockdown. After 72 days of relative freedom, I slowly, mechanically brace. Round two is like round one, but without the Dunkirk spirit and the Stronger Together hashtag. We’re not together; we’re segregated now by local lockdowns, some people seemingly unable to understand that the longer they behave as they choose, the longer this goes on. I listen to a woman on the news justifying a group travelling from south Wales to Doncaster while some members had Covid symptoms. I’m too tired to be angry. I’m just overwhelmingly, shoulder-slumpingly sad.
I’m sad that I can’t properly take part even in a virtual half marathon, planned to end, at a social distance, at Merthyr College. After the real Merthyr Half was cancelled in March, this lovely idea, to make sure we all pick up our medals and tee shirts at some point on the same day, was to be a bright spot in a pretty uneventful calendar, but the local lockdown stops me at Quakers Yard. I run 22km anyway, from Glyntaf to the old stone bridge just south of Brunel’s Goitre Coed Viaduct and back, after clocking up a surplus kilometre before I’m even out of Ponty, due to a closed footbridge. No matter; it’s a gloriously warm September morning and I have jelly babies. The lovely people at the Merthyr Half promise I’ll get the tee shirt soon. Bec, 1: Doncaster, 0.
I’m sad I can’t drive through the Cambrian Mountains next weekend and meet friends for a planned conquest of Pumlumon. I tried conquering Pumlumon three decades ago but had a strop in a bog. My 17-year-old sense of humour failed, and so did I, but now, older and wiser, I would be more prepared (jelly babies again, and more giggles). I will conquer Pumlumon one day, just not in this year of conquering very little indeed.
But in such topsy-turvey times come September-strong rays of light. After not going to Canada and spending just four nights in 2020 under canvas – one in my own back garden – those rays align, just before lockdown is announced, for a magical mini-adventure. It’s threatened by a cough and a Covid test, when Covid testing’s in chaos and a speedy result doesn’t seem possible, but the result arrives in 36 hours and is negative. With someone lovely, I throw some camping essentials and lots of rum in the van and hasten west.
And it’s all I need to see me through the coming locked-down weeks. We sleep under stillness at a hidden cove, countering the actions of those there before us by bagging up their litter and leaving their charred stone fire pits unlit. We swim before breakfast in a polished glass sea and I read chapter after chapter of an instantly forgettable book, snuggled into a seat of pebbles overlooking footprintless sand. We walk to Pendine, and icecream, over cliffs baked crisp by a hot sky, and we meet his family and friends and I’m welcomed as one of them.
The teens settle back into school with instinctive ease, new options and narrowed topics re-energising the old routine. Lionel is energised by very little, now well settled into the comfortable retirement due a nearly-10-year-old ex-racer with wobbly ex-racing legs. Early autumn sunrises fire up our days and I pass a misplaced hedgehog, scuttling along the pavement next to a main road, looking for his hedge. As we settle into the in-between rhythm of this new, nearly-lockdown, I start to understand I’ve never been more at home, in more ways than one.
Life really is a long-distance run. Sometimes the route is lined with supporters, providing inspiration, throwing jelly babies and cheering you all the way. And sometimes, you simply have to go it alone, quickly mapping out a new way at every closed footpath and carrying your rubbish with you. You can choose to take a shortcut – via Doncaster, if you like – but, in the end, it really doesn’t work, unless you put in the right number of steps and keep pushing on until the finish line.