We’ve been in Lockdown in the UK now for 50 days, and like everyone, I’m missing many things, and many people. Life has changed beyond measure, and we're all doing our best to adapt.
As most people reading this will know, sea kayaking is both my passion and my livelihood. But it’s more than either of those things suggest; over the last few weeks I’ve found a hole in my life, that I’ve struggled to fill. I’ve found some work as a supermarket delivery driver, to pay the bills; I’ve been getting plenty of exercise: running, using our home gym, lifting weights and rowing or indoor biking within that gym. So what is it? What has left a hole, that just doesn’t seem to be adequately filled by any other activity?
One thing I have done plenty of during Lockdown is trail running. We’re lucky enough to live very close to some lovely woodland with a network of paths, not marked on any maps but worn by dog walkers & animals. We also have a young, and very energetic Border Collie who needs plenty of exercise, so trail running is the perfect combination.
I’ve been a runner for around 10 years, on & off, and have run mainly on roads in that time. But a year ago I suffered an injury that I struggled to recover from, and during the process of rehabilitation I decided to focus simply on running & training for fun, to train consistently for a year without pushing myself to any specific performance goals. And so a new-found love of the trails was born. As a result of spending more and more time running on rough ground, up & down hills, I can feel myself getting better at it...
And then yesterday, I felt it... That same feeling I get from sea kayak play, surfing a wave or catching a wave in a tide race.
Complete, 100% focus. I didn’t realise it at the time, only when I surfaced, mentally... running down a rooty technical trail my mind switched off, body took over, and BOOM: there it is!
So what is it I get from the kind of paddling that I love most? It’s complete escape, more powerful than any drug. The ability to turn off the world, turn off the inside of my own head, and just let my body do its thing. It involves a 'just right' level of challenge, both physical and mental, inextricably interwoven with one another, so that one cannot exist without the other. In those few seconds or moments, my mind can reset, recharge, find some peace.
It’s going to be a while until we can go back to the type of paddling that gives me that feeling: the opportunity to match challenge to ability and truly focus on the present. The ultimate act of mindfulness, in many ways. But in the meantime, that little stretch of woodland trail, and in time when we can move around a little more, others like it, might just go a small way to filling that gap.