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April 24, 2021

My lockdown 1.0 experience: Slow down to move forward, and keep positive in a world of chaos.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.

In March 2020, the much expected and hyped UK lockdown started. We could leave the house for essential shopping, and one form of exercise a day only. All other times we stayed indoors. It felt like one of those zombie movies, where everyone has a meltdown when they realise that something very weird is happening around them, and you can’t control it. Everyone checking in on their family and friendship groups, making sure they were ready for the rollercoaster that would become known as Lockdown 1.0. This is what I learned about myself:

1. Simple Life
I seemed made for lockdown and the quiet existing type of life. It reminded me of my Christmas and New Year trip to Nepal in 2019, where I hiked in the Himalayas for ten days. The goal to reach the Annapurna Base Camp. I learned an unbelievable amount from that trip, about myself and life. I found out the goal was never to reach the base camp, but to enjoy every single second I spent in nature walking, sitting, stretching, listening, eating, moving, sleeping, sharing, or with my own thoughts. The simplest of life, where you are focused on the next two to three hours.

The night before would follow the same routine, each day. You would order breakfast, and the group leader would explain the following day’s plan. Breakfast always waiting, which was my favourite part of the day. You could sense everyone’s eagerness to spend more time at one with the mountains.

The hike would start, and meander through the various landscapes until the first break of the day, morning tea. I always had the same drink – hot lemon. Then onto the pre-lunch part of the hike, for another couple of hours, before we eventually stopped for lunch. Our next task to pick your meal from a simple menu, the menu contained enough variety to have a different meal each day, but I would usually have noodles or veg fried rice. Then you guessed it, another couple of hours walking until we reached the camp for that night, usually by 4 pm. Then nothing.

There was literally nothing to do, except be. Be with nature, other hikers, your group, or your thoughts. Just Be. We would order dinner and have an agreed time where we would eat. In between, you would set up your bed for the night, put on more layers, and simply wait for the meal to be prepared. Maybe play cards, check your photos, read a book, or chat with some others. Then after a very hearty meal, which was always the same, the Nepalese classic – Dal Bhatt, it would be a little more of just being then bedtime. Early. 9 pm at the latest. The funny thing was, we never really woke up that early except for two days, and the hikes were never really that strenuous but man, did I sleep. From 9 pm to 7 am. It definitely must be all the fresh air.

It took a good couple of days to understand and appreciate this was the Nepalese trek life. Then I loved it. I loved its predictably. The routine and structure. Everything was easy. We were so pleased with the smallest of things. Extra rice with dinner. A hot drink at the end of the trek. I played the same playlist for most of the trip, and I never got bored with it. We sometimes chatted as a group of four, or in twos, or as three. Sometimes with the group leader, or the assistant. Or sometimes, my favourite, you would walk solo in amongst the group but quiet, with my music usually in one ear, and nature in the other. At times I felt something deep, hard to explain at the time but now I know. An appreciation for life, for the wonder of nature, for your body, and for being wholly present in the moment.

Then on day seven, we approached Annapurna Base Camp. This was apparently the goal of the trek, but I soon realised it wasn’t. It was a moment, a milestone but it wasn’t the end. I can remember it like yesterday. It was the coldest I had ever felt and the most alive. People have died scaling the Annapurna summit, and you are remembered of this in the main hall where everyone congregates.

One memorial really touched me, it told the story of a European man who had lost his life performing the activity he loved. Scaling the Annapurna mountain range to summit one of the highest peaks in the world. He lost his life in the cathedral, the mountain was his cathedral. If you walk outside and away from the main hall, towards the soaring mountains, there is an area covered in peace flags. We saw both sunrise and sunset there. I felt the presence of the mountain and knew I would be changed forever. Eventually, I spent ten days with no WIFI, connection to the outside world or my family. I didn’t feel lost, sad, or disconnected. I felt free, connected to a higher purpose, grateful, healthy, and present.

2. My flat became my sanctuary
I love my flat but, thinking back over the three years I’ve owned it, I feel I haven’t really lived in it. Not extensively. I never worked from home or was ever really sick, so every Monday to Friday I would be in the office working those nine to five hours. Then in the evening, I would be at yoga, or out running, in the swimming pool, or enjoying my weekly cooking class. Eventually, I would end the day cooking dinner, before I jumped in a bath before arriving at bedtime.

I took the opportunity to really explore myself, and enjoy the flat, as cliche as it sounds.

I soon focused on the day to day life, like the Nepalese trek. Not the weekend, or the next week or month, but the next day. My days were filled with working from home in my kitchen booth. My one mode of exercise was mainly running and, on non-running days, I would escape the flat for a big podcast wander. The first few weeks were weird. I didn’t really keep my normal polished look. I slipped into wearing leggings, a hoody, and would leave my hair unwashed for days. It felt like a protest to myself, as no one else seemed to care.

3. Life is one big challenge
I took on some challenges to stay motivated. A 30-day yoga challenge. I seemed to bake A LOT. Everything I baked, I consumed. I was baking two or three times a week. It was my escape. Before lockdown was a thing, I was enjoying a weekly cooking class. It was on a Wednesday night, for two hours, between 6 pm and 8 pm. It felt like a chance to reset. No interruptions, or distractions from the outside world. Just you, the recipe, the class crew, and a couple of hours to mindfully play and prepare some food, which I would usually have for my dinner. My confidence in cooking grew. I kept training for my marathon in Copenhagen, as there was still no cancellation. I even attempted to learn the guitar, I really wanted to use this time to explore, and expand. Instead, I got frustrated and annoyed, finally agreeing with myself the guitar was being ditched.

Always know when to let go.

4. Practice Gratitude
Every Thursday, the UK public were encouraged to cheer from their homes for the NHS and front line staff. This became a focal point of the week. I found and waved to neighbours I had never seen before. Each week, there seemed more sense of purpose. Passing cars beeped their horn, neighbours would come out with pots and pans to amplify the spirit of unity. I would hang out my first-floor flat window, half clapping and screaming wildly, recording it on my phone as a future memory.

Some of my favourite memories are from the Thursday clap-a-long. On the fourth week I decided to move my Sonos music speaker to the window and played ‘Simply the best’ full blast. Then there was the time I purchased a ‘Thank You’ colourful rainbow tee-shirt with all proceeds donated to the NHS. This tee-shirt got some thumbs up from the neighbours, as I hung out the window. It was announced near the end of lockdown there would be no more clapping. The clapping must stop. Stop clapping.

5. Fun, Free, and silliness
Lots of caring, fun, and ridiculous things happened during this time. I made a pamper box for my parents with some ‘posh coffee’, a Cafetière, and a couple of Scottish themed coffee coasters. They absolutely loved this, and eventually introduced a lockdown tradition – 11 am posh coffee.

On the first Friday in lockdown, I had been out on quite a long walk around the Westend of Glasgow. It felt a bit strange as if everyone was making the most of a Friday night when we weren’t sure of the future.

As I turned a corner into my street I could hear some happy hardcore music blaring and could see a young guy dancing at his ground-floor window. Not just dancing, but properly going for it. He had a crate of beers, disco lights set up, and was having all the fun. All by himself. It was amazing, I immediately stopped and took out my phone to video it. I even ended up dancing alongside him, except I was on the street. It was so wild and free. I still look back at that video now and laugh hysterically. That night he continued the one-man disco, what a legend. If in doubt, dance like no one is watching in front of your window, onto a busy street in Glasgow. Yes to that!!

6. Be an explorer in your own city
I embraced the once a day form of activity. I explored parts of Glasgow I had forgotten about. The canal became my therapy. I would challenge myself to a sunrise run, with my alarm set for 4.20 am, as I love that time of the morning. The city centre runs felt weird as the city streets were empty, like a Hollywood ghost town. All the shops shut and all the shoppers stuck at home. It was weird, but also magical. I had the streets to myself and would spend the time taking photos. There was something meditative about it. Tranquil yet haunting. How a bustling, vibrant city could be brought to its knees.

My relationship with running changed. I still followed a training plan, but no longer felt I was rushing the runs, trying to fit them in before the weekend unfolded. My Sunday long run became my weekend highlight. It was the only thing I could really do to feel free. Before it was something that got done as fast as possible, at an easy pace, as I always had other stuff to do, and places to be. Now I had one thing to focus on. One single thing, and I focused on it.

7. When you can’t travel, buy a bike
As the weeks continued, I decided to buy a bike. I had been playing with the idea for a while. One sunny Saturday my friend text to tell me she was trying to buy a bike, but most of the websites were low in stock. I saw this as a sign and spent that afternoon exploring, getting excited over bikes that would turn out to be child-size, or out of stock. I kept coming back to the same bike. It reminded me of Melbourne, where I lived for over three years and was the proud owner of a bike called Bella. She was pale blue with a basket. I loved her.

So, I bought an older wiser version of Bella. To take me on my Scottish adventures.

I collected the bike. It was easy, it felt too easy. I cycled back to my flat, along the canal, feeling a sense of freedom, accomplishment, and excitement. This was now what adventure evolved around. Me, nature, and my bike. It may have taken five years to realise this, but I was awake and ready to play. Sometimes when the goalposts of life move, you can get stuck, frustrated, angry or you can smile, and move your own goalposts of adventure and expectations.

As all my trips were slowly canceled, I felt a sense of loss. As the girl that travels and have done for 5 years to exotic places with highs and lows, I kind of lost my identify. Now, my adventure would be bike focused, and I would be in control of setting my expectations. As long as you have a rough plan, snacks, and a few layers for the ever-changing weather, you can get out and about. That is exactly what I did.

I found new parts of Glasgow that I had never really explored before, as there was never a need. Now there was. Lockdown had changed my playground, from the world to one city, and its many communities.

It is something I will treasure for a long time. My new bike gave me a nudge as a reminder of what I loved as a child, and more recently as an adult in Melbourne. The freedom of cycling, with the wind on your face, and a sense of adventure around the corner – if you are game for it.

8. Tantrums
People seemed to drink more through lockdown, pile on the weight through emotional eating, and get the rage with all the uncertainty. I too had my moments. Way back at the start of lockdown I cried for all my lost travel plans, fun trips, much anticipated races, and the future I thought was certain, now a big black hole. I got frustrated at the vagueness and unknown timeline to a return to normality. Things changed, and we all had to go within to manage our emotions. I felt comfort in the constants during this period. They kept me sane, focused, motivated and grounded. In a world where the outside is chaotic, keep your inner self, body, and mind calm.

9. Constants
My constants ranged from running up to five times a week, twice weekly weight sessions – thankfully I already had an indoor gym set up – daily yoga, and so much reading. I introduced two new constants into the mix: Sunday stretch classes led by my PT, which gave a sense of community when you spotted some friendly faces on the group zoom, and I ramped up my meditation from once in a blue moon to daily. This was a different level. It felt like a big warm hug, and I credit the meditation with providing space, and clarity to process all the feelings that came up.

10. Run Club
Luckily the weather was glorious for Springtime in Scotland, tee-shirt weather, which has positive and negatives. The blue skies and fresh air brought brightness and hope, but at times it felt frustrating as we couldn’t really go out for long and truly relax in it. Every movement felt like it was taken for a purpose.

My run coach set up a running group with weekly challenges. My favourite, and one I smashed, ‘how many parks in one run’. On the Saturday night I retreated to my bedroom with google maps, and soon had a pretty impressive route pencilled out. It was actually a joy. Bouncing about Glasgow, in the sunshine, with the only requirement to find all the parks I roughly mapped out in my head. In the end, I kept finding new ones. My run covered 17km, and I was victorious with 16 parks.

What a lockdown Sunday.

Slowly each running event around the world got canceled, including my marathon in Copenhagen. After speaking to my run coach, we agreed to drop the mileage and focus on shorter distances. It would keep my interest. So we penciled in 3km and 5km time trials.

It definitely kept my interest, and felt like an actual proper event to train and focus on. The 3km distance completely new territory. My first attempt early into lockdown was unsuccessful. My head just wasn’t in it, and after a start/stop approach, I ran 12:02. My second attempt a few weeks later a success. I ran 11:55. The goal always sub 12 mins, and the minute I got it I knew I could run faster. The story of my life.

I updated my internal dialogue with my new goal. Again to run as fast as I could over 3km, but now with a new benchmark of 11:55. I eventually ran 11:40. This, one of the hardest runs I’ve done. A mixture of brutal hanging on for dear life and that feeling of ecstasy. My legs did this weird jelly wobble and I just held on like a warrior, screaming in my head ‘Keep going’.

The things we do to keep sane and motivated.

Slow down to move forward, and keep positive in a world of chaos

If I am truthful, when I look back now on lockdown 1.0 I feel a sense of nostalgia. Can life actually become more fun when you slow down and appreciate everything? Every single, small little thing that once didn’t even make it onto your radar. I think so.

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