The Hazards of Exercise in the Pandemic Era; a Personal Tale
Lockdown may be easing but the gyms remain closed so instead the British public has been encouraged to get out locally and exercise. It would seem eminently sensible but for the fact that so many of our streets are in a diabolical state. Plummeting council budgets have left many roads severely pot-holed, and reduced a great number of our pavements to army obstacle courses more reminiscent of rows of squashed cream crackers.
One in three of our pensioners will not go out for a stroll for fear of falling on broken paving, a YouGov survey found in 2019, and over £2m was spent on personal injury compensation by local Government in 2018. So how on earth are we, the great unwashed, supposed to run in our streets without taking our lives into our own hands? As a regularly active and generally capable person myself, I experienced a very embarrassing jogging malfunction as a consequence.
It happened early one fine morning. I am unsure as to whether it was one of the many seesaw paving stones or bulky tree roots crisscrossing the pathway, but something rudely deviated me from my forward motion. Just twenty meters from my front door I suddenly found myself flailing wildly in a Pythonesque ‘silly walk’, attempting to challenge gravity before diving into a low-level flight above the ground like an overweight pigeon. Briefly suspended in that strange hiatus when you register that something bad is happening and you must mitigate it at all costs, I threw out my hands to break the fall.
On impact, my body scraped across a meter of uneven paving stones and I cheese-grated my palms and knees. Finally at a silent standstill, when all I could hear were the birds chirping and my heart pumping, I turned gingerly to look at the road and take in the full mortification of it. It was a welcome relief to find no spectators. My hands were bleeding and I awkwardly scrambled upright to discover my knees were too. I had ripped a hole in each leg of my best Lycra running pants, and my lovely lilac fleece was covered in sticky bits of tree detritus.
Ruining my best gym gear was almost as traumatic as being unable to exercise for ten days (particularly since I had begun to love that seemingly irrelevant, tiny zipped pocket above my behind which I had just started using for my keys!) A sprained wrist and deep grazes on my hands and knees prevented me from doing very much at all for the duration, and kick-started my free-fall into the valley of over-weightness.
It was the next episode, however, that really took my personal embarrassment to new heights. The wounds seemed to take a long time to heal so after a week I contacted my local surgery. They told me the GP would call me back which I expected would lead to a consultation.
The allotted hour came and went so I forgot about it and embarked on lunch of an Indonesian masterpiece. Then typically, as I was finessing it in a wok and two pans, the ill-timed call came through. I was immediately and unwittingly launched into a surprise video chat with the young and not unattractive doctor. Juggling the pans and with my young daughter still reading her book out loud to me, I had to find a way to show the interested party my ill-fated joints whilst trying to maintain my dignity.
This lockdown-style consultation was new to me and my kitchen with its bi-fold doors was not prepared for privacy. In full view of my neighbours I could hardly pull down my trousers and bare all. Rather I had to roll up the two close-fitting legs whilst attending to the pans and deftly trying to position the camera to bestow upon the poor doctor the best view of my inflammations. It was testing, and polite as he was I think I may have given him PTSD.
Nevertheless he signed me off as healthy and I returned to my activities, but hurriedly unfurling a trouser leg I managed to rip off one of the thick scabs. The ensuing mess ruined another perfectly good pair of leggings and set back the healing process several more days.
The whole experience has strengthened my resolve to keep my eyes firmly on the ground when out running, and to buy kitchen blinds. But comedy aside, the economic consequences of this pandemic mean that the councils are unlikely to address the dire state of our pavements any time soon. For far too many people this is not just a bar to running, but to venturing out on foot at all for the foreseeable future.