Walter Somerville

We all know that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day #YCBWOAGD, but the recent lockdown has given me pause to consider what might be meant by a “good day.” For many people, that statement might conjure up an image of rolling around the bays, and on to Miramar Peninsula, in glorious sunshine, looking across a mirror of a harbour towards Matiu/Somes Island, and then over towards Eastbourne. Admittedly, while the sunshine is not so hard to come by, the mirror-like harbour is a bit harder to find.

But in this strange time of anti-social running, where we are wary of coming close to others, but trying to #StayLocal, a few things have changed. For myself, Sunday morning runs from Freyberg with friends along the coast were a chance for social interaction, not because I would be choosing to run on the flat, and now that social element is not there. So, my next option is to hit the trails. Living on the side of Matairangi/Mt Vic, there is a great trail network a couple of hundred metres from my door. “Great”, I hear you say. “Problem solved.” But it’s not that simple. Of course not.

One of the great surprises of lock down is the unexpected increase in physical activity. And in Wellington, that appears stronger than anywhere. We had been confined to our homes for only a matter of hours, when Wellingtonians decided they needed to escape, through their one legitimate means; they were going to exercise their right to exercise. Apparently, Wellingtonians were much more likely to visit parks during the lock down than the rest of the country, and I can assure you from my frequent runs on the trails, a lot of people have discovered the joys of a walk, jog or run through the town belt.

Now I am happy that people are getting out for a bit of fresh air, and stretching their legs. But some of the trails I love to run on are not very wide. Not even close to being 2m wide. So, I try to stay off them. That works. I can run, keep my distance. There are some wider trails, or I can stick to the roads. But it’s not the same. I want my narrow, steep, rooty trails back. And even when doing a half marathon running up and down the hill on the road, there are frequent excursions onto the road to give others some space on the footpath. What do I need to do, to run with the freedom I desire, without breaching the bubbles we have come to cherish so?

Wellington’s weather is something we complain about. Some days, the ideal weather is a slightly chilly, calm day, coinciding perhaps with Round the Bays or the Wellington Marathon, when these ideal conditions allow one to speed around the coast with a minimum of resistance. But, as everyone has noticed, there are no races now (virtual races excepted). Times don’t matter. When it’s windy then, that’s why we missed our goal by seconds, or even longer. But things are different now. As I write this, in the past 30 days, it has only rained in Wellington on 12 days, and only 6 of them recorded more than 1mm of rain. Those days have become my best friends. My “good days.” You see, the recent converts to outdoor freedom-cum-exercise have not yet developed their rain-proofing. During a roaring southerly, with torrential downpour, how many can be found out on the trails? Answer: only a few hardy dog-walkers, who were probably there well before COVID-19. It is much easier to share with many fewer people. And with some confidence, I can run down the narrow paths, my bubble gloriously protected by raindrops. So, while it is true that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, which days are good might not give the answer you first expected.