Running in Lockdown Lyon, by Martin Hopcroft

It became evident in late February that it was time to batten down the hatches, as we were heading into economic carnage. I was commuting weekly to Lyon, and the airport had become deserted. Everything was coming to a grinding halt. After the Ashridge Boundary Trail, and with the benefit of my forecasting gene, I packed my bag in the expectation of getting stranded in Lyon.


France was given just hours to lock down, with the need for permits to justify any absence from home. The French love rules, and love even more navigating around any ambiguities, so the laws had to be refined a few times before they were sufficiently watertight.

Working in an essential industry, I needed to attend the office daily, so I invested in an annual membership of the community bike scheme, which became my default method of transport.

For a few days I stayed in a hotel, but then the hotels closed for lack of customers, so I moved into an Airbnb for the rest of confinement. I would cycle to work every morning, picking up a sandwich for lunch from one of the few boulangeries that stayed open. Then I would cycle back to the flat, buying food for dinner from one of the many supermarkets. There were no showers at work, so commuting on foot was not an option.

During the week, I would invariably run around the neighbourhood in the evenings. At weekends, I might be more adventurous with a longer run. The roads were deserted, and I had the pleasure of running in the middle of the wide boulevards, as well as pacing hypnotically on the pavement slabs.

The advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was becoming increasingly strident in asking nationals to return to the UK while there was still transport. I always had a way home as Eurostar maintained a solitary daily train, however navigating the border controls back to France would be a challenge.

Some people save souls, others save lives, while I save businesses. The company that I had joined before Christmas was turning round, and I was not going to put that at risk by leaving. I told my family that I would be staying in France as I did not want them to remember me as someone that ran away when the going got tough, whatever the consequences. They were shaken and stirred.

One of the benefits of trail running is that it develops agility. One false step and you hit the ground in a bloody mess. This skill was vital in lockdown.

At work, customers were agitated, supply lines were disrupted, and employees were worried by repeated presidential statements of war. Nevertheless, we managed to keep the sites functioning so that we could continue to manufacture medicines that save lives. Issues in the business were happening so fast that we applied crisis management for a while, and running was my release mechanism.

My shoes were wearing out. I placed an order online that didn’t turn up. I advertised on my apartment window with my European shoe size, but there was no response. I placed another online order, and that got delivered. Hallelujah.

One day I fell badly from my bike and suffered myocardial contusion. The pain severely restricted my sleeping and running for a while, but then we were only officially allowed to go 1 km from home for up to one hour. I decided not to worry my family.

As usual, I was blogging on Strava with a unique title and photo, which makes each run a memorable event. With hindsight, it was a great way to remember every day of life in lockdown. Each day was different.

By running, I got to feel the pulse of the city. Each and every day there were more cars, more people, more shops, more everything. In addition to being the gastronomic capital of the world, Lyon is plastered with murals, which is largely a local female occupation. For a while, I selected my routes to see these murals, which took me all over town. It was some compensation for the fact that the parks and riversides were closed.

There are many different sides to the city. There are streets where people are living in cars, there are many tents, and there are sleeping bags in bus shelters. Volunteers go round daily to deliver food to the homeless, who charge their phones at the bike stations.

Rue Paul Bert is the epicentre of the Muslim community. The street came alive in the evenings throughout Ramadan. The police wisely stayed at a discrete distance. I took to running down the road to take in the atmosphere.

Without access to a hairdresser, I purchased some hair clippers and, after agonising about the wisdom of self-harming, gave myself a number 8 all over. It took four attempts. The difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is a fortnight. With my new look, I had to run much faster for the next two weeks along rue Paul Bert, as I looked like a flic on a mission.

There are similarities in being stranded with being at boarding school, as you are away from your family for an extended period of time. There are differences in that I had hot water. We kept in regular contact with video calls and virtual birthday parties. My family think that I am on a gap year.

Normal life has been gradually returning with the re-opening of the economy. France has been savvy in opening the hairdressers early in order to resurrect the shopping experience.

I celebrated sixty-four consecutive days of running before taking a rest day, and then upping the mileage.

When the radius of confinement was expanded to 100 kms, I took a tram to the lake district and enjoyed long runs along the Rhône river back to the city. With lots of trails and a gentle downstream slope, I had some great long runs in the scorching sun. Without a hydration pack, I resorted to carrying a water bottle. To go home, I need to be able to navigate borders, quarantine and transportation in two directions.

The introduction of house arrest in England, without parliamentary scrutiny, is just another problem to be navigated, except that stepping outside my own house could be a criminal offence, including outdoor exercise.

Meanwhile, the business has been transformed despite lockdown. Then along came the opportunity to manufacture a coronavirus vaccine for Europe. Perhaps I shall save lives too. Maybe it is time to think about going home. Stay safe.