A third of the global population is currently under lockdown. 1.5 billion students are out of school and the whole world (195 countries) is dealing with the Covid-19 emergency. These unprecedented and appalling numbers can help us put into perspective the dimension of the crisis but at the same time they hide a more complex and multifaceted reality. Sport events have abruptly stopped in an unprecedented situation that only two World Wars have caused in history (with a few exceptions).
We tried to reach our friends, athletes and fans like us, in a virtual world tour, to feel less alone and share our views and stories during this hard time. We believe it’s important to share brotherhood and participation without geographic or cultural barriers. We collected reports and tales on how people are dealing with the emergency, which is different depending on the measurements imposed by the respective countries, but also on the local culture, individual sensibility and sense of citizenship.
Adele Blaize is a member of the Canadian mountain running team currently living in Germany. She reflects on the changes brought by the epidemy: “I’ve been living in Germany for over a decade now as a teacher – our schools shut down 4 weeks ago and it is unclear what will happen after the Easter holidays. We cannot visit others, and I was also sad my parents couldn’t visit from Canada, but there is also a lockdown in place there too. I don’t know when transatlantic travel will be possible again or when I will see them next, so that has been difficult. I am very worried about the children, and especially the pupils due to take their final exams this spring. I graduated during the last economic crisis, and that is how I landed in Germany – but this crisis is expected to be far worse. I love sports, but there are more critical issues. If younger athletes cannot find opportunities to race, train, and work or study then this will affect the sport. I feel very fortunate to have been able to afford to compete the past five years internationally. But day to day, I’m pretty busy homeschooling my daughter, emailing pupils, and catching up on training on Zwift. It is still possible to get outside and run, and I have never seen so many people on the trails in our forest. There is a huge jogging, hiking, and cycling boom here in Germany, especially with such fantastic weather.”
Pascal Egli, a strong mountain runner and PhD based in Lausanne (Switzerland), talks about his work and training balance while his everyday life has not been affected so much by the crisis. “I am doing fine and I currently have quite a lot of work to deal with (which is maybe a privilege in these times…). My training has always taken place as close to home as possible – both due to time constraints and for environmental reasons. So my training habits have not changed that drastically, because in Switzerland we are allowed to go running and biking outside. I do go much less to the “real” mountains though, both because it is not advised (accident risk) and because I would have to take the train, which would bring me close to other people (I don’t have a car). So I am doing strength training at home, some indoor biking, sometimes outdoor biking, and running outside close to home.
I am fully working from home now (university is closed). I have almost daily research group meetings and presentations to stay up-to-date and inspired. I spend most of my time at home. But since my life already consisted of mostly work-training-eating-sleeping already before, not that much has changed actually.
We can leave home only for work, shopping or doing some sports. People are advised to avoid meeting any friends, practice sports alone and stay at home as much as possible. It is still possible to resource yourself by going outside into nature and release pressure. It can be very tough socially to be always at home, and that may create new problems that we don’t want. On the other hand, there is maybe too much room for interpretation of the rules. I think they are appropriate and if people remain quite disciplined in daily life we can keep living like this and even start re-opening certain businesses in late April.”
Elise Poncet, who was second at the last world mountain running championship in Patagonia (November 2019), describes her routine between physical exercise and rural life. “My 94 years old grandfather is staying with me during the lockdown so I take care of him while I keep working from home, so I have busy days! My food shopping habits have not changed. I already used to bake my bread, prepare my own yogurt, grow my vegetables in my garden, raise my chickens and buy some stuff in the local farms. On the sport side, the lockdown did not affect my routine either because I usually train on my own and from home or in the immediate surroundings. We can leave our home during one hour by day for physical activities (walk or run) for a 1km perimeter. Keeping the motivation up is hard without competition’s excitement! The only variations are that my coach recommended some home trainer cycling sessions, but I hate it!! Physical resistance, stretching, jogging and some short elevations sessions take a bigger part in my routine. I used to go running, rock climbing or skiing in the mountains with my but of course now it’s not possible anymore. I think it’s pointless to train in a specific way without a race planned in the near future. Our national athletic federation announced three days ago that races will be canceled until the end of July. It’s sad not to be able to see my friends… with Anais Sabrié, Alexandre fine, Julien Rancon, Julia Combe et Sylvain Cachard we planned to compete in the mountain running world cup.
I totally respect the government decision as in France the situation is very critical. I am aware of how lucky I am to live in a small village in the Alps and to have the little freedom to run! By solidarity for my friends living in cities, in apartments and people who keep working for us, we must strictly respect the rules.”
One of the most representative athletes of the French mountain running team, Julien Rancon was targeting the Paris Marathon as his main goal for the spring season, before moving on the trails. Julien explains how he had to change his plans after the epidemy burst out: “As soon as the virus started to spread, we quickly understood that there would be no competitions for a long time. At the beginning we did not realize how bad the situation was but seeing what was happening around the world and particularly in Italy, we became aware of the state of emergency. With the competitions being canceled, I decided to allow myself 2 weeks to recover, doing only a little bit of cycling and home gym, then I gradually re-start running. It is very difficult to plan for the future, so training remains fairly relaxed for the moment. it is more maintenance than development. The main thing is to keep the “pleasure”; working out is good for the brain too.
I live in the countryside and I can easily go out on the trails without meeting anyone. I also own a treadmill but with the good weather in recent weeks I have used it very little. I really cannot complain.
Lots of people have time and do some sports. The government has also tightened the measurements a little because there were too many people outside in towns. I think it is necessary, we should be perhaps more rigorous. In any case the more we make an effort and respect the rules, the less the virus will hit and will last.”
The situation in Spain is quite complicated, as Sergio Garasa (founder of @carrerasdemontana explains: “Confinement in Spain has been imposed gradually. The first major step was taken by Madrid regional government; workers were still allowed to go to work until March 28th when all activities were stopped except for essential industries and services. The government is considering reopening some businesses starting from this week. The total death toll now exceeds 17.000.
Spaniards have been compliant with the regulations. Runners, mountaineers and athletes stayed at home and only trained indoors. Many already had a treadmill or a stationary bike to do standard indoor training, yet plenty of others have come up with all kinds of activities, including running a 42k marathon…in a balcony only 7 meters long! Some top athletes have shared their training sessions on social media for their fans and this has been quite beneficial for the population. Races have been either cancelled or postponed; for those postponed most of them chose to return 100% of registration fees, taking a big toll on their finances to support the runners.”
We now fly to Norway to visit Johan Bugge, who lives in Molde, on the same fjord as Kilian Jornet. Former European mountain running champion, Johan points out how different the world will be after this emergency. “I’m fine and healthy. I’m really lucky to live in a part of Norway (Romsdal region) where the situation is stable. I’m allowed to go outside to train. We have really nice mountains to go skiing and most of my training has been skimo, with some running between skiing. My motivation for mountain running has not been the same after I ended my 2019 season in Chiavenna: I have not been training as much as I should. But the shape is not too bad.
My work as an electrician goes on. Schools are closed, supermarkets are open but with strict rules. The government says they have the situation under control, but in the next few weeks it will be important to still keep the distance in social activities. Culture and sporting events are not allowed like in most countries. My life is not too bad at the moment, but 2020 is going to be a different year.”
Not too far from Johan, Petter Engdahl, from Sweden, describes his ski training session and the arrival of the spring. “The regulations and recommendations here in Sweden are not so drastic as in the rest of the world. We cannot be in groups larger than 50 people and many people live their lives as usual or work from home. I trust our government and we will see what the consequences will be in the future.
My ski season did not go so well in the beginning, but I was in good shape by March, before the national championship. Understandably, all 15 races I was supposed to go to were suspended and it was an abrupt end of the season. Since then, I have been trying to make the best of the situation, doing some virtual ski races and training as if the ski season was still going on.
I live far out in the country, so I don’t meet many people while out anyway. I have a home gym and my training has not been affected so much by this pandemic. I took some rest last week and I will start running some more next week.”
In Great Britain we reached Andy Douglass (2019 WMRA world cup winner), from Edinburgh, and Sarah Tunstall, a very strong mountain runner based in Chamonix who decided to go back to England to stay closer to her family after the virus hit. “I am back in the UK as when the situation started escalating in Europe I wanted to be close by my family, so we are staying nearby my parents in Cumbria. We are currently allowed outside once a day for exercise of around an hour. We are staying in a very quiet village so I am very happy to use that time to run either 35 minutes by the river or cycle around the quiet country lanes. I rarely see anyone whilst I am out. It is different in cities but here it is easy to get space so I am happy and incredibly grateful that the measures still allow for this period. We are lucky to have a garden so I can do a second training on strength and conditioning, core stability or pilates style exercises.
I feel that the sanctions imposed by the government are completely necessary and now in the UK the majority of the population seem to be adhering to them. Of course I get impatient and bored because in the Alps I will spend most of the day outdoors. However, I am not putting any emphasis on “proper” training at the moment, just keeping fit and dealing with the bigger situation. I have some work I can do from home and have been reading, drawing and making jigsaws to pass some time. I’ve also enjoyed catching up with lots of friends on video calls, that I don’t usually make enough time to do. If the virus does not plateau I am sure we might see stricter measures introduced so at the moment I will just appreciate the time we are still allowed outside as with lots of friends in Italy and France I know we are fortunate to still have that luxury…”
Andy balances his occupation in the financial business with solitary training sessions: “I’m trying my best to adjust to these new conditions we find ourselves in. Fortunately government guidelines permit one form of outside exercise per day so I am able to still run outside once a day. I’m taking the focus away from mileage and I’m more concerned now about getting 2 or 3 quality training sessions in a week to maintain form. With spending a lot more time indoors I’m supplementing my running with more stretching and core workouts, varying in intensity depending on whether I have a hard training session that day or not.
For about 3 weeks now I have been working from home full time. I work in finance for an asset management firm, and fortunately we have always had the infrastructure in place to work from home. I do miss the day to day social face-to-face contact, but I do feel like one of the lucky ones who can still work. In terms of training, I am able to run once a day outdoors on my own. I do miss training with the group I would usually train with on a Tuesday evening and Saturday morning but my coach is very good in providing me with structured sessions so I know what I need to do when I’m out there running. Although I live in Edinburgh, the city itself has a lot of green spaces and I only live 2 miles away from the Pentlands National Park where there are quiet hills and trails to run on so I don’t find it too difficult to abide by the social distancing advice given to us. This period will pass and life will get back to normal at some point, but for now it’s vital everyone follows the advice given by the experts and if it’s only once a day you get to be outside then best enjoy it and appreciate it!”
On the other side of the pond, in Colorado, we talked to Andy Wacker and Joe Gray.
Andy lives in Boulder and points out how difficult it is to respect the social distancing measures when out on the trails: “We have “shelter in place” rules. So only essential business are open. That includes hospitals, grocery stores and alcohol stores. Most people are working from home, my wife Karley and I have been teaching from home since mid March.
Our trails are open. We are asked to stay at least 6 feet away from each other. I have been able to train and run mostly normally. Though, our trails have been very crowded as there is not as much to do (nothing is open). I’ve had to be careful to avoid busy times and locations. The Flatirons and some flat trails are just too crowded to run on and be 6 feet apart. Some trails are now only allowed in one direction, for example running a loop counterclockwise. Tracks in Boulder have recently been closed.
I have actually been training more than normal (100 miles per week) as now I have a more flexible schedule. I have had to make adjustments, especially with no tracks and races cancelled through at least June. I’m trying to have more base miles. Easy, longer runs. I am very lucky and I am fine with the rules. I respect “social distancing” and preventing the spread of the virus, but also appreciate my freedom to keep running outside. I think it is a fine line being outside and on trails with others around. It is often somewhat impossible to be 6 feet apart; I know others are still meeting up with others outside of their household for runs/walks/bike rides. And I think that is not good for everyone’s health.”
Joe Gray, from Colorado Springs, echoes Andy’s words: “Life is tough for everyone right now, especially athletes who are limited to no racing for the time being. Personally, what I love most about the sport is the competition side and being able to share social time with my fellow runner friends. Without any clear date for competition to resume it has been hard deciding what type of training to do. I’ve mixed in some new training by doing some mountain biking but also I have been resting the body and mind during this stressful time and not focusing too highly on workouts. In my opinion, now is a great time to focus on family and also making sure you have your finances in balance just in case this situation lasts for many more months. As for the rules, I think more parks should be closed down for some months because honestly it’s sad to see them being overcrowded with people who do not respect them. The other day I was walking with my son at a park and you could easily see there was a lot more rubbish and litter around. There are groups of people not respecting the social distancing guidelines as well which is sad to see. Almost as if they do not understand how serious this virus is. It’s quite selfish.”
Our world tour continues in Peru. Jersey Miranda, blogger and founder of @trailperu, describes a very complex situation compared to many other countries. “We went under total lock down about 30 days ago (March 16). We are not allowed to go outside other than for basic necessities (food/pharmacies/banks). Restrictions are getting more severe with time. The last extension has kept us from leaving our homes from 6 pm until 5 am on Monday to Saturday, and all day on Sunday. Exercise is not allowed, including alone and even on remote trails. Currently we are staying fit by exercising indoors with different routines we can find on YouTube or live-streams from fellow Peruvian coaches.
Virtual races are popping up on running forums, so that is keeping us entertained. Some runners have run serious distances indoors, others have taken a more educational role to ensure people are conscious of the danger and the importance of obeying the rules and limiting exposure. Trail Peru took a role in sharing information, awareness and the importance of obeying rules. It’s important to exercise but not overdoing it at home. Personally, I try to do 30-45 minutes of exercise several times a week, but nothing extreme. Life has halted, but the situation has also given us a chance to develop new habits, routines and perhaps rekindle old passions that can be done without leaving our homes.
The rules imposed by the government are harsh but necessary. Our medical system is very limited with very few emergency beds, and with only under 200 respirators around the nation we could not afford to be gradual. The slowing of the spread has given the government time to procure close to 500 respirator units, and prepare hospitals for covid-19 patients.
It will probably take at least two months before we resume any kind of normality. We assume public gatherings will be prohibited for a long time after that. I have given up thinking about racing until maybe next year.”
Jose Manuel Quipe, a very strong Peruvian athlete who was 8th at Dolomyths Run 2019 and 12th at World Trail Championship 2019, lives in the Andes, 11 hours away from Arequipa, in the Cotahuasi Canyon. Jose, like many young people of his age, is a farmer and grows potatoes; he explains he cannot sell them at the market anymore because of the epidemy. “Several people are moving from the cities to the country and we fear that will spread the virus even more. Older people are under threat. Authorities are educating people to take turns to go out for food. Curfew has been imposed from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.; we respect social distancing and we go training in the mountains very early, reaching as high as 4500m to avoid meeting anyone while out.”
In “Around the world in 80 days” by Jules Verne, Phileas Fogg took 22 days to cross the Pacific Ccean sailing with a steamer from Yokohama to San Francisco. Less much adventurously, we reached Sabrina Grogan in Auckland, New Zealand, in just a few hours.
“How the world has changed. Sure thing! New Zealand has been in ‘Level 4 Lockdown’ for just over 2 weeks now, the plan is to be at this level for 2 more weeks then hopefully we will have more relaxed rules. There is nothing but essential services open. We can go outside here, only alone or with people in your ‘bubble’ (a group of people you live with, you are allowed close contact with). Any exercise must be local. If you have to drive to get to a place for exercise it’s not allowed. So I am limited to running on the streets near my home. Ideal? No, but it’s not forever. Narrow trails risk contact with people, isolated tracks risk danger you will need rescue. As a doctor I worry for the people who are at high risk, and our actions now make a huge difference for the future. For now, I bike, I work on strength and I run as it is safe. A Māori saying – Kia kaha – be strong!”
Mark Bourne, from Australia, describes a less difficult situation. “We are allowed outside to exercise if we maintain social distancing but no more than 2 people are allowed to be together, so most people are training solo. As far as the rules, I don’t think there is any difference between amateurs and professionals. With no races being on there is no great pressure to train hard, but we are grateful to still be allowed outside at this stage to exercise. I am doing some running and cycling (sometimes on Zwift)”.
From the antipodes of the globe, we now go back to Italy, where we will try to describe the emptiness we all feel in our lives through the eyes of an athlete who chose Malonno as the place she now calls home. This is, of course, the Welsh mountain runner Heidi Davies. “Of course my training habits have changed over the past few weeks. Now I’m very limited with where I can train, I can’t run on the trails or up into the mountains but am confined to the outside space I have in my yard. Some days it’s hard to find the motivation to keep running around in circles and some days it feels pointless, like why am I doing this when so many people are out there fighting for their lives or saving other people’s lives? What I’m doing feels kind of pointless sometimes. But then I guess it’s helping to put a perspective on things, to be grateful and thankful for what we do have. I understand why we have such strict lock down conditions and with the realization that millions of people all over the planet are living in the same way, it helps to feel more connected and less alone during this time especially as I’m living in a foreign country and I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel home and see my family again. The reason why I keep running around in circles and doing other forms of training at home is I guess because I’m an athlete – we are just people who like everyone else are trying to make sense of what is happening in the world. It’s times like these that call for self discipline and a kind of self evaluation of who you are and why you do the things you do. I’m still learning and discovering more everyday.”
With these beautiful words, our world tour comes to a conclusion. We hope to have kept you entertained for a handful of minutes: sharing stories and feelings will help us feel more human and open towards the others through this difficult time. Now, more than ever, We are the World, We are the People.