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Mark Armstrong: Run with your mates - don’t let the bad wolf win

Mark Armstrong with wife, Alison, on their own 'cake run'. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong with wife, Alison, on their own 'cake run'. Picture: Alison Armstrong

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Running has been a very solo activity since I started a few years ago.

I did the vast majority of runs on my own apart from a few with my wife, Alison.

It was my time to decompress and think about the days, weeks, months ahead.

In the current circumstances I don’t feel like that’s doing me any favours. The uncertainty of when life might start looking a little more like it did nine months ago has felt overwhelming, again.

That sense of anxiety is building like it did in March when the coronavirus took the country within its grip. It feels like that Covid-19 fist is tightening again and focusing on anything else, including running, all feels a bit pointless.

The curbs placed on our social interactions in an effort to contain the virus really are starting to have an effect. Even on the occasions I get to take my daughter, Lara, to school it feels very different. Understandably there’s no hanging around for a chat with other parents – it’s all about hand sanitiser, two-metre gaps and staggered start times – it is hopefully keeping us safer. But losing those touch points of social contact has a detrimental effect on mental health.

It’s why running clubs and groups as well as informal meet-ups with friends for a run have become even more important.

I’ve done more runs with friends over the last month than I have in the last two years. Being able to meet up with mates for a run chat or even a little session has felt a bit more special. I’ve ended these runs feeling a lot lighter, mentally, with a sense of invigoration that has been lacking at times when running alone.

It’s why I desperately hope parkrun can return sooner rather than later. The aim to get events in England re-started by the end of October is now “unlikely” according to parkrun chief operating officer Tom Williams. It would be a desperate shame if these plans had to be pushed back a lot further and there is an argument made that the cost of not putting on these events is greater for the mental and physical wellbeing of people than the threat of transmitting the virus in an outside environment.

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We all know it won’t be exactly like before where getting coffee and cake afterwards is as important as the run itself but that sense of familiarity and routine of a pre-Covid environment would go down very well right now.

MORE: Love running? Join the Run Anglia Facebook group here

I started reading Vassos Alexander’s book, Running Up That Hill, this week in which he starts with a native American parable about the story of two wolves.

It goes like this:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Part of life is finding out what things feed that good wolf inside you - it’s very individual.

It might be watching football with your friends, going to the pub (and staying after 10pm), going out for a meal – that’s up to you to find out. But when these things are taken away, or restricted, we have to adapt and find other things to cope with difficult circumstances.

Along with many other things, running has nourished my ‘good wolf’ and running with friends makes it even happier.

If you aren’t already, go for a run with a mate this week, but most importantly of all, don’t let the bad wolf win.


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