A Runner’s Journey Through 2020

By December 28, 2020No Comments
A Runner’s Journey Through 2020

The year 2020 was unprecedented in many ways and the defining factor was good health. A runner-fitness expert looks back at the running highs of 2020. 

Having run a regular full marathon in January 2020, I was gearing up for numerous races during spring and autumn, when the pandemic struck and imposed lockdowns, severely restricting movement and imposing quarantine on those who were affected by Covid-19.

Initially, for the first time in my life, I did not dare venture out of my home for two weeks. This seemed difficult for someone, who had been used to running three times a week for the past 12 years. It was then, while browsing through social media, I came across the country’s first virtual run slated for April 26 and registered for the 10K event, which included a finishing certificate, medal, t-shirt, mask and a granola bar. I ran the distance in a 3K loop in our housing colony with a mask on. There was nobody on the road at 5:00am. By the time I finished, the mask was wet with my saliva. I used a mask made of cotton which was breathable.

Subsequently as the pandemic worsened, there were hardly any vehicular traffic on the roads in many of the cities, except for police and healthcare workers on their way to work. I formed a social media group of 20 colleagues across the country sending links of virtual races, both international and domestic. Most of them offered the participation certificate free of cost or a timing certificate for a small registration fee. More had to be paid for a medal and a t-shirt. There were also various combination in the virtual runs. One could opt for a series of runs with a digital certificate for each run followed by a consolidated medal and certificate after completing the circuit. The longest was a series of 16 runs every Sunday leading to a framed picture of 16 temples with the runner’s name. Then there were monthly runs in which a medal or trophy was awarded at the end of the month, along with a certificate. As the restrictions gave way to various degrees of containment zones, making it easier for people to commute, new virtual races came up with a choice of both running and cycling or either option.

The wearing of mask was not made compulsory after several health organisations and doctors realised the dangers of inconsistent breathing and suggested to the running fraternity that cloth face coverings may not be necessary, when out for solo exercise or if you will be in a place where you will not encounter anyone else. There was no advantage found in wearing a face covering if you are not going to be near people.

I ran most of my races solo or keeping a distance of 20 feet from fellow runners. I advised the same to my colleagues with the following pointers:

1. Put on the mask, while travelling to the running area. Remove the mask before starting the run and putting it on after completion of the run. The mask to be put around the neck for ease of application.
2. Wash hands with soap and water or use a sanitizer before and after the run.
3. Keep a distance of 20 feet between fellow runners.
4. Try as much to run solo as possible.
5. For those in containment zones, run inside the home, balconies, terraces or parking lots.
6. If having access to a treadmill or cycle exerciser, use it.
7. In order to record run details to download a free running app from Play Store into your android phone.

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I ran most of the half marathons at 4:00am, when there was no one on the streets. Similarly, my full marathon runs took place even earlier. A large number of runners in the country started running in groups on the National Highways early in the mornings and thereafter even during mid-day and evenings. A young marathon runner I knew even took permission from the local police during lockdown to run the full marathon at midnight on the National Highway in a fixed zone. Being an NCC cadet, special permission was granted to him.

Gradually, every country made rules in their different states according to the risk assessment. It meant that if you live in an area, where community spread is low, it may be safe to run with two or three other people that you trust and will be honest about any interactions or possible exposures to the virus they may have had.

There was an upsurge on running in mid-2020 during the pandemic, because everyone understood the benefits of having a healthy body and realizing that running may be one of the best options to stay physically active. After all, running does not require teammates, a field, a gym or any special equipment, except for appropriate shoes and clothes.

A few running groups started road running keeping the number of runners low with refreshments counters on the route. At the end of the race, the medals were handed over to the runner and not draped around the neck. Such races were few and far between. Well-known running organizations started experimenting by having the actual run restricted to elite runners, practicing physical distancing and running in a selected route with government approval. All other participants of the event ran virtual using their own distinct running app.

Towards the end of 2020, it became apparent that the pandemic was not going to go away quickly and the race for vaccines was bearing fruit, albeit slowly. Storage and logistical implications stood in the way of progress of the vaccine, but breakthroughs were being made in certain countries, which have already started the inoculation drive in December.

The current situation is inspiring people to do things differently, which in the long run could be a good thing. View running as a new way to express yourself. The pandemic will continue to change life as we know it. Might as well make those changes positive.

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Sanjai Banerji

Sanjai Banerji

Started running at the age of 48 in 2008 and has run more than 50 half marathons, marathons and ultra-races in 13 cities in India and abroad. In 2019, he became one of the oldest Indians to run in the top three marathons in Asia (Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore). His book, ‘Crossing the Finish Line’ was published in 2019.

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