The biggest lesson I have learned on my 160-kilometer endurance runs in China is that the time will pass, and I can either feel sorry for myself or I can put on my big-girl pants and put one foot in front of the other – and I will be in a different place the following day.
When my sleep-deprived mind hallucinates or hears babies crying deep in the forest, or when I have blood-stained knees from falling down a rocky trail in freezing weather, the only thing running through my mind is that “tomorrow will come, I can be here – in this same miserable place – or I can move forward to the finish line.”
Then came Covid-19, and I have been in Beijing throughout. My friends and family around the world ask me, “Why are you staying in Beijing, Lisa? Come home, at least until the storm passes, and then you can go back.”
But my home is Beijing, a place I have lived in for nearly a decade. I have a “family” here (though not through blood ties) and I am committed to my work with Save the Children in China. We are rolling out online courses for local child service providers and helping to design home-based parent-child activities. My colleagues and I are also facilitating the distribution of protective masks and gloves to health workers.
I have been working from home since late January. Since then I have lived through severe restrictions on my movements and social gatherings. It has been a rather surreal few months.
This is the longest race I have ever involuntarily participated in – and I remind myself I can either sit in one place and throw a pity party for myself, or I can keep moving forward to that finish line.
So here are a few things that have helped me adapt to the new normal.
- Savor the small moments: On one of my hundred-kilometer races, I saw a beautiful buttercup flower. I stopped, picked it, admired the yellow petals, stuck it in my backpack, started to sing “Build Me Up Buttercup” and continued on my way to the 75km mark with a smile on my face. Those moments are worth savoring. A colleague sent me a WeChat message recently just to say “thank you” for something, and it brought me to tears. Two simple yet kind words meant the world to me at that moment. Other seemingly innocuous things like birds chirping during my morning run or a quick snuggle with my dog have helped me be more mindful.
- Minimize negative news: In the darkest of night, with your headlamp batteries running low, 18 hours on your feet, not knowing what the next ascent will do to your self-induced battle-stricken body or mind, you can only be “good” or “great.” A negative mindset will bring you down and negativity must be kept to a minimum for your own self-preservation. With Covid-19, I feel absolutely intoxicated – the news, the restrictions, the conversations, nearly every work e-mail, social media, everything, everywhere is about Covid-19, and it can be overwhelming. I stopped watching the news in the mornings and evenings; I keep cartoons or comedies on while I work. And after a few days of minimizing my intake, I found myself whistling for no reason.
- Grab the opportunities to reconnect: The distance between checkpoints on a trail race are usually between 10km and 15km, which can take two to four hours. I look forward to these beacons of light – a hug with another runner who passed me, a conversation with someone who just experienced the hell of the last leg. These connections help carry you through. And with Covid-19 it’s no different. Fortunately technology allows us to connect with those we can’t see on a regular basis. I see small family units having more quality time together, and I have also been in closer contact with my own family over the past few months.
- Be kind – to yourself and others: After 23 hours of running, my body and mind were giving up, it was only my spirit taking me forward, and even that wasn’t enough. I was falling asleep mid-sentence and I had fallen to my knees, then my elbows, then started to sleep on the trail. A fellow runner who spoke no English, along with two others, none of whom knew me, picked me up and walked me 2km to safety. They did what I hope anyone would do when seeing someone needs help – they stepped up when I was down. With so many uncertainties surrounding Covid-19, tensions are high, people are stressed and the future is unknown. I am constantly reminding myself that everyone is fighting their own battles – particularly at this time. There is nothing wrong with reminding ourselves to be kind and patient.
We don’t know if or when life will return to normal, and that can be daunting. But as we wait for the “old normal” to return, this is the perfect opportunity to evaluate which pieces we wish to leave behind, as well as which parts of the “new normal” we want to keep. The storm has not yet passed, but I am home, and step by step that finish line is getting closer.