When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, Team Meraki athlete Richard Welpton had more to worry about than cancelled races and social distancing. After contracting the virus shortly after lockdown, he was forced to recalibrate his goals and reassess his season. Here Richard shares his amazing story of recovery, and his exciting plans for the future…
I remember the week in the middle of March really well: on the Monday evening at work, we got told we’d be working at home from then on indefinitely. On the previous Saturday, I’d finished my third and final long run to prepare for my first 50km ultra run that was going to be held on the last Saturday of the month.
The training had gone really well: I’d done a few long runs in the previous few weeks, including a 4 hour stint, with some interval and hill sessions mixed in. I didn’t have any niggles, ankles were doing unusually fine. I felt good after the sessions, not fatigued. I’d got a good nutrition mix figured out, I was used to running with a running backpack, and I was happy to be entering the recovery phase ready for the big day. I kept thinking that 50km is just a little more than marathon distance, and the course was flat (in fact I knew the race area well, so knew what to expect). In my mind I saw myself at the 7am starting line, and completing the finish probably by noon if not before.
On the Thursday morning of that week, I began coughing, and this carried on through the day, getting worse and leaving me feeling weak. But it left quickly, and I didn’t think it mattered, I’d soon get over a bad cough that had only lasted a day. In the news, more events were getting cancelled but I was hoping that small events like my ultra might be allowed to continue (only a couple of hundred people). A few days later I’d gone for a short walk; and when I returned home I had to sit down after tackling the stairs, I was so out of breath. In the evening a headache came on, in the night a fever began, and for the rest of the week I was in bed with what was almost certainly covid-19.
Well of course the ultra was cancelled, but I wouldn’t have been able to run to the end of the street, let alone do any serious distance. On the morning of the day that would have been the ultra, I remember feeling really gutted about it; but on that day I was only just moving out of bed and very slowly. I’d become so inspired to take up the ultra challenge in the previous few months, and the training had gone almost perfectly to plan, that even now I sometimes think “first ultra almost there but didn’t quite happen”.
Strength came back, and I got out for 20 minute jogs and after a few weeks resumed a training schedule, but it was weird because suddenly there wasn’t anything to aim for any longer. I’ll always run because I love running, but I didn’t know why I was continuing with interval sessions and hill reps.
I think I just needed something to aim for again. Well, I spoke to Liv about triathlons (I’d watched a few videos about them while I was ill), and it was always something I’ve been interested in. I thought it was something that meant training twice a day, every day, but Liv debunked a few myths in that department. And she agreed straight away to coach me.
I had some mixed emotions: I woke the next morning thinking “oh my, what have I signed up for?!”: I’m completely out of my comfort zone with triathlon. Very happy with running, but I’ve only ever cycled gently on the way to work (trying hard NOT to break a sweat), and yep I can swim but we’re talking 40 lengths broken up in 2 length sets gently over the course of an hour!
But the excitement took over and I wanted to start training on everything straight away. I wanted to sort out a bike, except this was going to be really difficult under lockdown. OK, but I can swim and I wanted to pick this up, but except that all the pools are closed, and I’ve never swam outdoors before, so ok just got to wait a bit longer for things to re-open. Having decided to take on this adventure, I suddenly found myself frustrated that I could only really carry on with the running. I told myself: well, be grateful that in the UK we were still able to go outside at all. But that impatience was still there.
Never mind I thought: let the energy keep building up because very soon everything will be opening and there will be plenty of time to use it, and more. There’s a lot to look into, so I’ve been using the time to think about bikes and equipment, future events, all sorts.
I’ve definitely calmed down now, and enjoying focusing on the running. Since I got back to training, and joined up with Liv, the training has gone from strength to strength. I’m loving the interval sessions she’s setting for me, my pace times are getting much quicker. The long runs with tempos built in are tough (though fun): but my legs are feeling lighter. I’m loving the challenge, and I’m really feeling that there will be a lot of benefit to this style of training, I can see it coming. It’s definitely awoken something in me that I hadn’t realised was there before.
Not wanting to wish away the summer, but September and October is on the horizon, and events are still planned. I’m focussing on re-trying for my first 50k at the Thames Path Challenge in September; hopefully by then pools will be open again, so I can do the ultra and then begin focussing on swimming, and the cycling will come after that.
So there’s a lot that’s good now and a lot to look forward to. I’m doing what I know I love by running.
While it’s not on the goal list, or on the training schedule, a super long run might be just around the corner: I figure with the time we have available until any events, I can just do something for the hell of it, and it doesn’t matter what happens, there’s plenty of time to recover.
In a way, we’ve got a summer without targets, so we can just go out and do what we love for the passion of it. Maybe it’s giving us space to think about what we want to do, maybe that’s a good use of time without relentless target setting. I think that we’ll learn a bit about ourselves and why we love doing this in the next few months.
The ‘super long run’ Richard talks about took place on June 21st, on the night of the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. Replicating the ultra he missed back in the April, Richard ran 50km, starting at midnight, and finishing as the sun came up over the capital.