From the physical to the virtual

All over the country social running clubs have become virtual social running clubs. Just like that. It happened literally overnight. For the Green Heart Runners, that night was Tuesday 17th March. That was the point when England Athletics informed all affiliated running clubs that they should stop group runs with immediate effect.

I felt absolutely sick at this news, even though I knew it was the right thing to do, of course. I was in touch with friends and Group Leaders of other running clubs and they were equally as disappointed. I felt very emotional as I contacted all runners that morning to let them know we could no longer meet as a group.

Everyone was understanding, but disappointed. Since then of course, the rules have become more strict and we’re now unable to exercise with anyone other than people with whom we live.

You know when you’re in a social running club because you see other people, catch-up with each other, support and encourage one another, and don’t worry about personal bests or training really seriously.

But you really know when you’re in a social running club when you suddenly can’t see those people anymore.  For me, that’s when you need the social more than ever.

Soon after the UK social and movement restrictions came in to force and we were forced to stay at home, we initiated a photo competition for the Green Heart Runners, as a means of keeping in touch and keeping the interest up during this period of solo running. This led to an explosion of messages on our WhatsApp group, along with all the other WhatsApp groups that were sprouting out of nowhere! So I created a private Facebook group for the photo sharing, which has proved a great way to keep in touch and has saved our phones from exploding.

We’ve had our first photo competition winners. The categories were “most intriguing selfie” and “muddiest trainers” and I was delighted and most grateful that Alistair Jones (aka Mr Running Jones) adjudicated and picked out our winners. We now move on to the new categories of “Springtime selfie” and “most inspiring run route view”. My next job is to find a judge for this round. Any takers?

As well as our photo competition we now have more members on our dedicated Strava group, which is another great way of seeing where we’ve been running and of supporting each other and celebrating our successes.

My friends and colleagues are this minute coming up with new ideas as to how we can sustain the fun and interest across our group. I look forward to sharing these when they happen, and would be very keen to receive any ideas from other running clubs.

It still feels like we’re in the early days of this. It’ll be weeks, probably months, before we’re able to run together in a group again, and when we are able to, who knows what the new rules and social norms will be around group exercise.

But let’s not speculate. Let’s continue doing what we’re good at – running, sharing our stories, supporting each other and celebrating our successes, in whatever form they come.

RR

Day 8 – Social, Musical, Emotional

The university I work for has set-up a dedicated Facebook group for staff members to join, as a means of keeping touch with colleagues and friends. After only a week the group has over 1700 members and is beginning to form a social life of its own.

People are sharing photos of their home workstations, their pets and their images of balancing family and work-life. Others are describing the ways in which they are successfully adapting, or honest accounts of how they are struggling.

It feels like a community. It is a community. One wonders now it is in operation why we’ve waited until now to set-up a Facebook page like this. Well, I think the reason is that we are such a social community on a campus that wants, needs and inspires people to physically congregate in large and small groups, that the idea of needing an online method of connecting seems, well, unnecessary.

But now it is necessary. More than ever.  This became very apparent to me yesterday. Bear with me…

The people who set-up the Facebook group are colleagues and friends I know well. They had the idea of setting up a ‘live lounge’ theme whereby members could post videos of themselves singing, playing musical instruments, and the like. They also know that I occasionally have one glass too many and do a live stream of myself playing the guitar or piano on my own Facebook account. You can see where this is heading.

When I got the call to play the piano on a live stream to colleagues, I was eager to help, slightly terrified, and slightly excited. In this triumphant state, I agreed.

I decided on the songs I was going to play. That was the easy bit. The difficult, and most stressful bit, was working out how to position my phone in such a way that it would capture me and the piano and not fall off the precarious perch I had fashioned, using a camera tripod and ramming the phone into a latch that would much prefer a camcorder with the correct mechanism. I honestly practised getting the phone in to a fixed position more than the songs I was to play.

Cut to the day. It only dawned on me with about half an hour to go before I was due to live stream, that I’d better say something, as opposed to just sitting down, playing, then wandering off. So that was a bit stressful as I hastily scribbled down some notes.

Ten minutes to go and I set-up the phone in its awkward and ill-fitting location, got the screen flipped so I could survey the camera view, and spruced it up a bit.

Five minutes to go. Had a mild panic that my mum will call in the middle of the recording and thought there’s probably something I could do about that, but it’s too late now and anyway I’m not disturbing that perfectly balanced phone.

Three, two, one. Hit “live” (carefully without knocking the phone over) – and off I go.

I played for around 16 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The reason for this long-winded story is that I was not prepared for the reaction.

Colleagues and friends were so supportive and so warm in their kind feedback I was a bit of an emotional wreck in the evening. I’ve never known such support and warmth and solidarity from a community. I’ve never received so many likes, views, comments before. And all of them so caring and kind.

I say this not to boast. Really. I hope I played well. But I think the level of support was there because it was a community of people who want to support their colleagues. There is a need out there to be kind and to encourage. This group of people does this sort of thing every day, many times a day. But now, isolated at home, with no physical social contact, it becomes much more difficult. But in putting myself out there, trying to play well and choosing songs that may suit the current situation, I drew out the natural urge of my colleagues to be kind and encouraging, human.

Some said they cried during my playing. That wasn’t me making them cry. That was their reaction to this whole situation where even the simplest sounds or songs can remind you of someone you love, or someone you’ve lost, or trigger your anxieties about the weird and changing world we are living in at the moment.

I cried afterwards. I almost cried during the recording which would’ve been a bit awkward. Reading all the lovely comments really was quite overwhelming. It still is.

The Facebook group will evolve as they always do, and I expect we’ll all get to know one another a lot better as a result, which is no bad thing. I already look forward to meeting up with those people who said they also played, or were learning the piano, when we’re all allowed to stand within less than a Richard Osman of each other.

So, thank you everyone for your generosity. I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll never forget it. I hope other people have a go too. You won’t regret it and will get so much support.

And if I’m asked back, I’ll (almost) certainly say yes!

Stay safe. Stay at home. Exercise.

RR

Han Eats AND Runs

Introducing my friend Hannah Green. I met Hannah last June at the first Run Brum Crew run meet I joined. Run Brum Crew is another free social running club in Birmingham, founded and led by Mike Parker. Hannah is also a Run Leader and often leads the Monday night group runs. There’ll be a blog post dedicated to Run Brum Crew soon enough!

Hannah has a fantastic personal running story, which we will also feature soon. For now though, she shares some running and culinary thoughts in the context of the current predicament we all find ourselves in.

*note to readers, this is written within the context of government advice today, 28th March 2020. Any tips / advice may not hold true if government advice changes in the future*

Over to you, Han!


Hannah in full Run Brum Crew leading action

“So, this time last week, this was going to be a very different blog post. A quickfire, upbeat “go support your independents”; the tale of my daily runs, out and back grabbing coffee or treats on my return to support our local Jewellery Quarter independents whilst my heart/guilt was breaking for their small businesses in this, the most trying of times for all.

First up was a coffee from Damascena. They announced they were closing the next day.

Next day sweet treats + fresh oranges from Salcooks & Coffee Tales.

Coffee from Saint Kitchen followed, before they then had a day of selling off lovely produce + meal prep parcels before closing.

Saturday night takeaway from Indian Brewery. Felt weird that they were so busy. Regretted it almost the next day for their staff being at risk, but not for supporting in their final hour for a while (and the comfort food, obvs).

Monday: A sneaky (solo) stroll out for Salcooks’ last pastel de nata of the day. Little did I know that was my last for a while with lockdown announced that very night, for Sal as well as for all of us.

How ‘reckless’ that now all seems. Practically illegal too, weirdly.

I would absolutely still advocate to do something productive with your one allocated stint of outdoor exercise per day – run/walk/cycle to go get your essential groceries, any medical supplies, deliver something to a vulnerable relative/neighbour/friend. Less time outside, more tasks completed, following all the guidelines and keeping that goddamn distance.

But what I really want to say, is just enjoy that run as you normally would. ‘Normal’ life wouldn’t usually allow for one run PER DAY, or even exercise every day for that matter (unless you’re doing crazy training or run commuting) – this is a small joy that there’s time and rules to run/exercise every day. We’re facing a mental health epidemic if we don’t all stick to our ways of staying happy/sane and ensuring others are too, in whatever way we can. So go bask in that little bit more time on your hands, whether through lack of commute, a skeleton working day or necessary time out alone from those you’re in closer proximity to than your normal daily lives.

  • DO stay as far to one side of the path/canal/road as you can, allowing someone to pass alongside you safely.
  • DON’T hog the middle of said path.
  • DO cross the road safely if there’s no way of avoiding someone – it’s not rude right now, it’s the best thing to do.
  • ABSOLUTELY DO still give the most friendly of runner’s nods/smiles/waves/thumbs up/cheers from your safe distance – it means more now than ever.
  • And DO make your own treats/pick them up whenever you’re shopping for essentials. Make your own takeaway (cauliflower fat naans à la Indian Brewery are my new delicacy). They ARE essential in getting us through this and motivating us to get up and out for these heavenly runs.

P.s. in the same independent spirit this blog began, there are still some lovely independents able to work and provide their services for people during this time, like:

  • Gaijin Sushi donating a meal to the NHS for every £10 spent on delivery (they’ve already sent 260 NHS meals!)
  • The Clean Kilo (plastic-free supermarkets in Digbeth + Bourneville – click & collect or with safety measures in store)
  • Sarehole Mill’s local community pop-up shop of essential items (yes to pasta, tinned toms & eggs, Mon-Fri)

… to name just a few. Go get ‘um if you can, and while they still can.

Enjoy, stay safe and keep clean”

Guest post by Hannah Green

WFH

Ok I know I literally posted an hour ago that I wouldn’t write about working from home today. But then a funny tweet by Sally Brooks inspired me to write this.

Zoom, skype, Whats App, Slack
Facebook, Sharepoint, Twitter
So many ways to keep in touch
So much online chitter

Ping, beep, chime, buzz
From all of my devices
Photos, videos, funny memes
All of which entices.

Mute, unmute, “can you hear me?
What’s that awful sound?”
“How d’you share a document?
Ooh look what I’ve just found!”

Share your cat, share your dog,
“Your piano’s out of tune”
Good luck folks, this is our life
Until the 1st of June!

Our Time

I had great intentions of writing daily reflections about this new home-working life. It’s day five and I’ve already changed my mind. Just like working from home for this extended period, I need to pace myself.

So here’s a poem of mine instead 🙂

Catch-up folks, I’m growing fast, I know you must agree.
Every day I change, though it’s as long for you as me.

You’ll miss my tantrums, screams and yells, so savour them so true
You’ll miss my sleepless nights, I know, as long for me as you.

I won’t always be this small, this sweet, this cute – you’ll see,
Don’t forget each passing day moves just as quick for me.

These legs of mine can’t walk right now, but they’ll become much stronger.
Time passes fast, though a day is a day – no longer.

I could do so many things when I’m as tall as you,
Work in entertainment, as cast member or crew.

I might become a concert pianist, fill a concert hall,
All these things you dream of when, like me, you’re small.

But let’s not ponder on the future, it will come with time,
Let’s focus on the simple things, like rhythm, song and rhyme.

The present is our here and now, our one reality,
The future’s through another door, our one uncertainty.

I’ll still be yours and you’ll be mine, and as we climb life’s tree,
The big hand ticks around the clock the same for you as me.

So when you’re at your wits long-end, and struggling to get through,
Remember that a day is just a day – as much for me, as you.

RR

I went for a run today

This is a post by my colleague and friend, Gareth Chapman. The act of simply running allowed him to lose himself in thought, and his thoughts, inevitably, turned to the current situation we’re all faced with. Here they are. Thanks, Gareth.

I went for a run today.

I didn’t run very far or very fast, but I went for a run nonetheless.

It was the first time in the last few weeks, since races and events started to get cancelled, that I have felt any motivation to get out. I am glad that I did.

I ran in the later afternoon, mostly off the roads and away from others.  When I got to the small sections of wood, the sun cut through the trees as if to point a spotlight on certain things that I might otherwise have missed.  I saw deer tracks, squirrels, badger holes and more types of bird than I could name.

I felt relaxed. I felt calm. I felt like the world stopped spinning quite so fast, if only for a little while.

I am not much of a ‘social’ runner; I’m not particularly social full stop. What I like about running is the chance to lose myself in thought.  Today my thoughts inevitably turned to the current coronavirus pandemic, and the implications of it.  I do not know if, or how, the act of running, and being in nature, influenced my thoughts, but I kept coming back to the duel idea of Stephen Covey – the Circles of Concern and Influence.

I think that it is fair to say that most people’s Circle of Concern has grown exponentially over the past few weeks – concern for ourselves and our loved ones; concern for extended family and friends; concern for members of our different communities; concerns for our jobs, livelihoods and what the future will look like; political concerns; economic concerns; social concerns; concerns about what comes next, how long it will last and when will it get better.

What I suspect has not changed is people’s Circle of Influence over the same period – we can still only control our immediate environment; our immediate interactions; and our immediate reactions to the concerns we all face.  To my mind, this is where we need to focus our energy – we all have a choice about how we act and react – and now, more than ever we need to stand up for, and own, our choices.  

Let us take control of the things we can influence, and step back from the thing we may be concerned about, but have no influence over.  Let us try to be positive where we can.  Let us try to be encouraging and supportive of others who are using their influence in a positive way. 

I went for a run today. It wasn’t very far or very fast.

I’m glad that I did.

“Chico” the escaped sausage-dog

Yesterday was tiring. I wouldn’t normally feel so tired at the end of a working from home day. But I was pretty beat and I received messages from other colleagues saying they felt the same.

For me there are a number of factors at play:

  • I’ve still been getting up at my usual time but have been starting work much earlier as the commute is now only a flight of stairs.
  • Skype meetings, somehow, are more tiring than regular meetings (though I’ve had some welcome tips on preserving my voice!)
  • There’s a new job feeling this week. It felt like this last week too. My brain certainly feels overloaded when I start a new job.
  • Life has fundamentally changed
  • The news is terrifying

It’s the final two factors catching-up that are probably really the cause. Life has changed, and you can’t escape that fact.

If I’m feeling exhausted, goodness knows how people with children at home are feeling. You’re made of stronger stuff than me.

Despite all this there were many good things that happened yesterday. I held a good Skype meeting with 16 members of my team and everyone was in high spirits, supportive of each other, and it was good to see that individually and collectively, our sense of humour is in tact.

I chatted to a member of my team 1:1 and again learnt more about the WiFi in the house as we moved out of the kitchen so that my wife, Angie, could make a smoothie as noisily as she pleased! Working in the food industry, Angie continues to need to travel to work, hence it is just me at home after mid-morning each day.

A friends WhatsApp group also became a bit active in the afternoon and just for a few moments, the usual banter helped me forget life outside.

I was rather zombie-like in my 4pm meeting with colleagues across the campus (figure of speech) – tiredness creeping up on me rapidly.

I then went for my Tuesday evening run. Slightly before 5.30pm, I admit, as I just knew I needed to go before I dropped off to sleep.

Outside it felt eerie whilst also being perfect for running. I almost felt guilty for enjoying the quiet roads and the wide open spaces.

Then a lovely thing happened. I was running up a main road when a little sausage-type dog came scampering past me. A few seconds later I realised I hadn’t seen an owner, so I doubled-back. He was now sniffing away on a grass patch by the pavement so we became acquainted with one another. His name was Chico and his address was on his collar. He was small enough to pick up so I took a slight gamble and did so – and he was fine! Next job, find the address. I flagged down a car that was turning in to a side road, was given directions, and then walked for half a mile with this little pooch in my arms until I found the owner’s house. He could’ve been a little more grateful as we momentarily broke social distancing rules to hand over the dog. And then I was on my way and completed my run.

No photo evidence I’m afraid. In this day and age when nothing is deemed to have happened unless you’ve had your photo taken with it, you’ll just have to take my word for it!

I made the mistake of turning the news on at 7pm. So turned it off pretty quickly.

So what will I do differently today? Little steps. I will start work a little bit later, take proper breaks throughout the day, watch the news once only (Boris’ briefing probably), and continue to practice talking normally.

Life is like an experiment at the moment. There are new constants and new variables, and the substance is changing as a result. But we’ll keep tinkering with our lives and routines on a daily basis and find that new normal. We have to.

ps – Chico would like you to know that the featured image is of one of the many dogs who wish they were as handsome as he is, but sadly aren’t.

Day 2 – keep moving

Well we got through day one of collective working from home. It’ll take some getting used to. Every time I thought of my colleagues I could only envisage them being on campus whilst I was the only one at home. My little brain couldn’t unconsciously bring itself to believe that almost *everyone* was working at home.

And it was a busy day. Really busy. I made a bit of a hash of the first 1:1 meeting I had with one my team members by wandering outside in the garden sunshine with my laptop only to be reminded that the wifi doesn’t extend beyond the washing line. I came back in and then we were interrupted by the whizzing washing machine. After that it was fine!

It was nice to see everyone on my screen in 1:1 and group meetings. And for day one we did make some progress. It was great to see everyone adapting to, and mastering, the technologies we’ve had for years but never actually had to rely upon until now.  I now have two regular informal / optional group Skype catch-ups in the diary which people can dip in and out of as they wish – this will just help us keep in touch and ensure people don’t feel isolated, even if their ability to work normally is limited.

Yesterday the priority was making sure people were ok. In fact, throughout this whole period, this has to be the overriding concern. We can’t know how long it will last, and whilst work is important, the mental health, well-being and happiness of our colleagues and friends is more important. I think we’ve always instinctively known this, but now it is obvious.

One side effect I wasn’t expecting after day one was that my voice would be parched at the end of it. I think I instinctively talk louder or in a more laboured manner whilst on Skype. I’ll need to sort this out otherwise I’ll have no voice left at the end of the week!

Another side effect of working from home is the lack of walking required in my day. At work we are walking and exercising all the time. Think of your daily routine in simply getting to work – the walk, the public transport, even the walk from the car park to the office. As daft as it sounds, think about how far you walk to go to the toilet at work and compare that to the distance you walk in your own home. We’re constantly dashing to and from meetings, walking to buy our lunch or to the kitchen to make drinks. All of this has stopped and we need to compensate for it.

I am now committing to doing some form of exercise during every single meeting I have online. Even if it is only walking on the spot, or simply standing – this is better than sitting for hours on end. I may look daft, but I don’t mind and if it encourages others to do it, then it’ll be worth it.

Boris Johnson’s message probably came as little surprise to us all. In it he did say we could get outside for one form of exercise a day. So my advice is, make it count, particularly if you are now working from home. Don’t blow it on an amble around the block. Do whatever it takes to get your heart rate up and something that means you’re looking forward to a sit down at home at the end of it. And do it every single day in all weather.

Over a period of weeks, moving in your home and making your one outdoor exercise opportunity per day count will all add up to thousands of calories burnt, maintaining your levels of fitness and muscle strength, and protecting your well-being.  

I’m off for my morning ‘commute’ which today will be in my (small) back garden as I’m saving my one outdoor / public exercise for 5.30pm – just like I do every Tuesday with my Green Heart Runners.

RR

Old Habits

Day 1: Old habits

It’s 6am on 23 March 2020.

Today is my first day working from home for an extended period due to the University campus, where I normally work, closing to all but restricted and essential access.

Each day I will write something and I’ll do it first thing in the morning, so today’s activities will be summarised in tomorrow’s post. And so on.  While I will write something every day, I may not post every day. But we’ll see how it goes.

Today. So far, so normal. I’ve got up, had a shower, got dressed, had my breakfast. Good. Normally now I would make my sandwiches. Either that or I would’ve have made them last night. I did consider doing that and leaving them in the fridge, but I think I’ll need something to do other than simply eating my lunch in the middle of the day, so I’ll save the job of making it then as well.

Actually writing this blog post isn’t entirely out of my routine. Quite often before walking or driving to the train station I do log on at this time in the morning to crack on with some work for half an hour, write a blog post, or do some work related to the running club that I lead.

When I’ve finished writing this piece, that’s where the routine will begin to change.

I usually drive or walk to the train station. So I will go for a 20 minute walk after I’ve written this.

I have written down a few things I want to communicate to my direct reports about working in this new environment so will put these in an email, and then see if we can all find time to catch-up over Skype to discuss how they’re getting on themselves, how their teams are, and any ideas they’ve had over the weekend. I was so proud of my team last week – their calm, caring and organised approach to a very rapidly-evolving situation was incredible.

I’ve also got a number of other suggestions I want to share and discuss with colleagues about how we work in this new style and environment.

Particularly lately, my office colleagues and I have seen the benefit in stopping for a chat about what’s going on in this crazy world around us, over a cuppa. All being at home makes this a bit more difficult, but now we’re all set-up with Skype and have a WhatsApp group, I’m sure we’ll find a way and a time to do this as well.

Because last week was all about how we could swiftly ensure that the campus could be safely managed-down to only essential operations and access, there wasn’t a huge amount of time for thinking about what this week would look like, let alone the next two months. I’m sure we’ll be working this out over the next few days.

Monday evenings are usually Run Brum Crew evenings. My attendance has been patchy to say the least since Christmas, but I will go out for a solo, socially-distancing run, at the usual time of 6pm, then catch-up with my running friends online after that.

Right. Each of these posts needs to have a defined length, and I think this should be a side of A4 – no more. I’ve just about reached that limit, so I’ll sign-off for now, and see what the day actually brings.

Here’s to cherishing old habits, and creating new ones.

I’m off for my morning walk.

RR

Lost for words

I can’t express this feeling

In any words of choice

Can’t find the right expression

I can’t find my own voice

You can see it my eyes, though

Slightly vacant, numb.

You see it in my languid body

What I have become

You can feel it in my fingers

As they tremble on your hand

You can feel it my hurried heart

Rocking like a band.

You can hear it my breathing

Irregular, erratic

You can hear it in my talking

Rambling, dramatic

Maybe you can sense it

Silent, unexpected

Strange, contorted faces

Off-time and belated

No I can’t express this feeling

And I don’t need to try

It dominates my thoughts just now

I needn’t tell you why.