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  • Writer's pictureAlecsa

Released From Lockdown: Running Long After Quarantine

As soon as we knew that the strict quarantine would be lifted here in France on the 11th of May, we were planning to head out on a long run to shake off the cobwebs and enjoy some trails further away than 1 km from home!

The epic run that followed lived up to the expectations of post-lockdown trail adventure.

Tour de Santa Anna Trails
On the trail again

Back to prepping for the trail

Returning to the trails for a long day out after such a long period of relative inactivity, especially not far from home, immediately posed some challenges. First off: kit choice.

I always adhere to the rule of “better safe than sorry” and over-pack my running bag, and this time was no different, especially as I had not been away from home for more than one hour at a time for 6 weeks! Anything that could go wrong, would go wrong: blisters, chafing, cold and wet weather…

How to pack for a long run?

A quick run-down for me:

  • Light-weight waterproof jacket with hood and light-weight waterproof trousers

These are almost always in my running backpack, as they’re light and can offer warmth as well as shelter from wind or rain. Regardless of the weather, if I’m going to climb at altitude, I will tuck them away in the main body of my rucksack.

  • Sunhat and glasses

I’ve started wearing photochromatic sunglasses that adjust to the light and they have been a great improvement for transitioning between sunny and shaded spots. No more squinting trying to see where my feet are landing! I take my sunglasses on almost every long run, unless I’m 90% sure it will be overcast. They help keep bugs away and protect my eyes from the odd branch or overgrown bramble, too!

The sunhat is also a bit multi-purpose. Here in the Pyrenees, the sun can be quite strong especially in the summer, so it’s definitely needed then. It’s also great to have during a light rain shower, protecting my face.

  • Light-weight gloves and buff

It was warm enough not to need gloves and we weren’t going to be higher than 1000m at any point on the route, but in case it rained and temperatures got low, I prefer to keep my hands warm with some light-weight gloves. I also use a buff if it’s really windy, to keep my ears protected!

  • Blister plasters and a few first-aid kit items

Especially going out after a long rest, but also for everyday running, I have a small first-aid kit adapted from mandatory race kit lists: blister plasters, some disinfectant wipes, a roll of tape, some plasters, an anti-chafing cream and a survival blanket. These are always in the bag and I may add more things if going on a longer day out or on a big mountain day.

  • Trekking poles

Wow, it had been a long time not using trekking poles! These have proven invaluable on long climbs, helping me to get into a rhythm and plod on. Even though the Serrabona Priory route doesn’t have very lengthy uphill sections, having the added support from poles on the first “proper” day out in a while was a bonus

  • Lots of food and water

From having run there previously, I remembered there were no streams that looked safe to drink from and no village shops, so I took two 500 ml soft flasks as well as a full hydration bladder with another 1 L of water. The plan was to be out for up to 7 hours so I didn’t want to risk running out.

I also took all the food I could in the house: gels, bars, some pretzels… always good to have variety and some spare food for any emergencies!

Serrabona Priory
Serrabona Priory

New beginnings

It was a mix of excitement and apprehension as I stepped onto the trails and saw the time ticking away without thinking I needed to turn back. For six weeks, the lockdown rules in France restricted outdoors exercising to a radius of 1km from home, for 1 hour maximum. This meant I spent all my runs with an eye on the time, to make sure I was sticking to the rules. And in six weeks, it’s easy to develop a habit.

As my legs found their rhythm and I enjoyed the variety of the landscape and terrain, going from wooded trails to river crossings and some running on pavement in villages, I started feeling at home outdoors again. I was being careful not to overdo it, running relatively slowly on the downhills and walking up the climbs, but the feeling of freedom still dominated throughout.

The route we chose was the Tour de Santa Anna, a 42-km loop starting from Serrabona Priory not far from where we live in the Pyrenees. The very ambitious aim was to go as far as possible on the route, with options to drop out at various points including in villages from where one of us could easily pick the other one up. This is something I’ve learnt the hard way here in the Pyrenees: always have escape routes available on every run, as often the conditions, either from the weather or the trail itself, make it a lot less quick to get around than it looks on paper.

Challenge and route change

And sure enough, an escape route was needed!

Despite all our enthusiasm, it was pouring with rain midway through the run and everything was soaked, including the trail that became more slippery and overgrown as we got into the less wall-walked parts. After 20 km, it was time to find a way back.

Thanks to good planning and the View Ranger app on my phone, I was able to run back towards the start on a faster, wide forestry track, adding another 10 km to the day’s total and arriving to a meeting point where Doug could pick me up from easily. You can see my Strava track here, complete with exasperated running around in La Bastide trying to actually find the escape route!

That post-run feeling

Not running for 6 weeks and then going out on a long day like that was quite an adventure in itself, but a carefully planned one where we made sure not only that we had kit over and above what would be required, but that we had lots of “plan B” options for returning to safety.

I felt surprisingly fresh despite the sudden ramp up in volume. With renewed enthusiasm, this was the first of many exploration runs of this summer, trying to learn more about the area close to home. Lockdown had meant discovering new trails even closer than we had expected – you can see my account of a hidden gem just in our village in this recent article published on Cicerone Press' website.

How did you find it getting back to the trails? What’s your essential kit for a long day out? Let me know in comments below!

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