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The strange experience of watching Schrödinger’s Half Marathon

Photo credit: Alison Myers in Virtual Bath Half FB group

March 17, 2020 - 7:00am

I was due to run the Bath Half Marathon yesterday. After days of agonising I decided on Friday that I felt uncomfortable going ahead given concerns about coronavirus, so opted to stay home. Official advice at the time of writing is still that mass outdoor events are not a significant infection risk, but I was not alone in skipping the event. According to the BBC only around 6,200 runners took part, approximately half the usual number.

Certainly local feeling in Bath was unhappy at the event going ahead: the Bath Half Facebook page received many angry comments from locals unimpressed at hosting a huge influx of crowds from around the country on the cusp of a pandemic.

I ran my half marathon solo round the lanes on Saturday, hit my target time (sub 2 hours) with 40 seconds to spare, and while I was a little sad to miss the buzz of a mass event I do not regret my decision. Many other runners did the same, sharing run times in a ‘Virtual Bath Half’ Facebook group.

Instead of travelling 150 miles just to stampede through city streets with thousands of other people, I spent Sunday morning with my daughter and our next-door neighbour posting flyers through our neighbours’ letter boxes. Our aim was to start mobilising mutual aid on our street for people who may need to self-isolate due to coronavirus.

The contrast between my planned and actual weekends left me feeling as though I am watching one idea of what our society is come apart, just as another reforms in the space where the illusion stood. A highly mobile mass-participation idea of society, split between huge public events and atomised private households, feels as though it is giving way to something more place-bound and mutualistic.

For all I know everything will be back the way it was in a few weeks. But the strange experience of watching Schrödinger’s Half Marathon flicker in and out of existence over the weekend has left me wondering how many of us will be re-evaluating our priorities in the months to come.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.


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Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
4 years ago

I admire your pluck, Mary. A few years ago I was one of only two runners who showed up for the Serbfest 5K trail run in Ottawa. The only other runner who showed up was a French-Canadian lady. I told her we should run it anyway and as long as we both finished we would both win our age categories. She wasn’t interested and instead I did a 3x800m workout on the 400-m track closest to my home. With warmup and cooldown I ran 5000 m. But running a solo half-marathon effort and achieving your target time is something else. You should be very proud of yourself. I always enjoy your columns. Keep up the great work!