‘There have been restrictions in place for the last week or so - but since Saturday 14th, we’ve been in enforced lockdown’, Thomas Watson explains as we sit down to chat over Skype. An ultra-runner, running coach and founder of marathonhandbook.com, Thomas is originally from Scotland, but is currently living in Madrid, Spain. In a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Spain has closed their borders and put 47 million people into lockdown.
‘You’re only allowed outside to buy food, visit the pharmacy, or go to (essential) work’, Thomas explains. ‘The enforced lockdown means you can be stopped and fined for being out in public without good reason. Our street is usually busy with cyclists, runners, and walkers - but since Saturday it’s been eerily quiet.’
Around the world, footage of stockpiling and panic buying has made the newspaper headlines. I ask Thomas what it’s like when he does get out; ‘last week there was a lot of panic-buying’ he explains, ‘since the lockdown, things have actually calmed down. I’ve been going first thing in the morning, and although some items are still not available, the atmosphere is more relaxed - but sombre. Everyone is respectful of social distancing, and minimising interactions.’
Coronavirus - Looking after your mental health in lockdown
At the moment, Thomas and his household haven’t felt unwell or suffered any coronavirus symptoms. ‘We’re a household of three and have been very cautious’, he explains. We talk about his running schedule before the lockdown and his training for the Madrid Marathon, which was due to take place on Sunday 26 April, but has now been postponed till the autumn. ‘My marathon training was in full force - I was logging around 30 miles per week’, Thomas explains.
‘I love running outdoors, in the streets and the trails near our home. Being prevented from doing so has been tough, especially when you don't think that a solo run would affect the spread of the virus, but it's important to buy-in to Government advice’ Thomas adds.
I ask him how he’s looking after his mental health during the lockdown, without the chance to get outside and run. ‘I'm trying to compensate for the lack of running by working out at home every day - this helps my mental wellbeing. I think this is especially important during lockdown as you're stuck indoors all day, and there's a general sense of uncertainty in the world - both of these things can affect your mental health.’
Taking your running training indoors
I ask Thomas what his mood-boosting workouts look like; ‘my partner and I have committed to do an at-home workout together every day for 25-30 minutes. Doing it together helps with motivation and accountability and it's a fun stress-reliever to do it together’
The workouts are simple and pretty much equipment free, Thomas says, using a couple of resistance bands and a kettlebell to build up the routine. ‘We do a five-minute warm-up with dynamic stretches and jogging on the spot, then we get into bodyweight exercises: side lunges, squats, sumo squats, press-ups, crunches, and plank. The idea is to hit a quite high level of intensity for the middle part of the workout, for some cardiovascular exercise.
‘Then we do deeper stretching and work on flexibility - examples include the pigeon pose, resistance band work (clamshells, side steps), and a few yoga poses my partner throws in. The last five minutes is stretching and foam rolling.’
Sharing stories of positivity in a time of uncertainty
At the moment, guidelines in the UK are to cease all unnecessary travel, however, according to the Prime Minister, people are able to leave the house 'for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others'. At the moment, we can still run outside, but I ask Thomas for his advice to runners who might find themselves in total lockdown in the future.
‘Adopt a routine as early as you can, whether it's an online training programme or something you design yourself. It's easy to see a lockdown as a huge obstacle to training, but it also becomes an opportunity to focus on new exercises and neglected muscles’ he says.
As a running coach, Thomas’ advice for runners is to ‘focus on cross-training which can improve your running game’ - think hips, glutes and core he says and you might be a more powerful and economical runner when you can next get outside.
You don’t need a lot of equipment to get results, Thomas explains. ‘Don't stress too much if you don't have access to training equipment’ he tells me, ‘it's totally possible to get a great workout in using just your bodyweight, and thousands of people do it every day. Search on Youtube for inspiration.’
That said, his checklist of essentials to make things more comfortable include a yoga mat, resistance bands and a foam roller. For strength training a single kettlebell or pair of hand weights can open up a world of exercises. ‘If it’s an option, you may want to consider getting a treadmill so you can continue your run training from home’ he adds.
Like Thomas, a lot of runners all over the world will have been training for an event that has since been postponed. Thomas urges runners to not panic about missed long runs during this time - ‘it's hard to simulate long runs when stuck at home - however, if your event has been postponed by six months, you can hit pause on the long runs anyway and pick them up again in a few months.’
So how is he filling in the time and itching that competitive scratch? ‘In the meantime, me and a few friends in lockdown have just started a home workout challenge. We're going to compete against each other in a few different challenges - a push-up challenge, a plank challenge, a burpee challenge. It's going to be a fun way to keep in touch with friends remotely while motivating me to stay fit!
The overwhelming notion I’m left with after talking to Thomas is that we’re all in this together; we’re hundreds of miles away from each other, but we’re just two runners, sharing training stories in a time of uncertainty when the simplest thing of going for a run might soon be off the table. Every runner will understand the fear of not being able to get out and put one foot in front of the other; running should be cherished while you’re able to do it and worked at when we can’t.
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