Almost all of us are in the same position right now: stuck inside four walls with finite space but infinite time, it feels. For me personally, what with University cancelled next term, I’ve got until when we go back in October almost exclusively under this one roof. That’s a long time. And that’s why I’m determined to do my quarantine well. Like, really well.
Immediately after I found out just how long I’d have to disengage from the normal routines of life — getting the bus, going to the gym, meeting friends, going to lectures, rowing, using libraries or shops — I swore to myself that once I’d left quarantine, I’d be glad I did it.
I want to leave quarantine better off than when I started it and in this article I’ll detail how.
I’m going to get fitter in quarantine than I’ve ever been before. Really, we have no excuse not to be; being at home having nothing to do means there’s no reason not to do a workout or go on a (socially distanced) run.
That’s why I almost immediately picked up endurance running.
I must admit — I’ve never really been one for running. I’m kind of the wrong shape for long distance, at least, being quite wide and heavy even if kept fit by rowing plenty for my college — St Catharine’s College Boat Club — and frequent weights sessions.
However, having recently switched to a very nutrition-conscious and efficient vegan lifestyle and upping the intensity of my training, I’ve become far leaner and fitter, so picking up endurance running now seems like the right time to do it.
Before my first run, I didn’t know how far I could go. I’d only ever run 5k before and that was pretty nasty. Inspired by Forrest Gump, I decided to push the boat out and see what kind of distance I could manage. The outcome of that mindset was a surprising 16.11km in around 2 hours.
My next run was 16.74km, and after that was 17.90km. Both of those were closer to 1h45. The numbers themselves aren’t important, as they’ll vary person to person (you could be in far better or worse shape for running long distances than I am, so tailor your training to yourself), but the rapidity of improvement over the course of a week (running every other day) fills me with hope.
With my eyes now set on a 4hr marathon, I need to sustain a pace slightly faster than I’m currently doing and for twice as long — this is no easy feat, but I’ve got plenty of time to do it in, and I’ll be glad of it once we’re through this thing.
Diet is another key aspect of fitness. I’m already vegan, a change I’ve made around two months ago, and as a result I’ve had to become more conscious of what I put in my body to make sure I’m getting the right stuff still. But there’s always more that can be done — new foods to be tried, new nutritional information and habits to pick up, new recipes and cooking skills to learn.
At college, we aren’t really given many cooking facilities in our current accommodation, though come October (and new, better accommodation for second-years), this will all change, and I’ll need a solid repertoire of recipes to fall back on. There’s no time like the present, especially during a pandemic.
My new habits will also include eating far less ‘crap’. My fruit and veg intake are going up (I actually hit that mythical ‘five a day’ a few days running so far) and my snacks are healthier — a natural result of being vegan anyway, I’ve found.
After this is all over, I’ll most certainly be glad of the effect on my snacking and dietary habits. Especially since supermarket availability is so up-and-down right now, we shouldn’t just eat whatever we like anymore and so now is the perfect time to balance and improve our diets.
I am, like many of you, a student. Specifically, I study Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and my modules are Geology, Evolutionary Biology, Chemistry & Maths. Current communications indicate that neither the University nor the Faculties know what they’re going to do about end-of-year exams. My modules next year are also specifically Evolution-related, so, really, three of my subjects don’t make much difference (since this year isn’t actually counted towards our final grade anyway).
But that does not mean that we shouldn’t study.
For one, we do know that when next “term” starts, even if it’s only online, teaching will still continue to a rather more limited extent. Lectures will be posted on the intranet, supervisions will still happen over Skype for small-group learning, and homework will still be set.
Yes, there’s the possibility that none of this will matter in the slightest because we might not even have exams. But even in the case that we know there are no exams, I’ll still revise all the content I learned this year as if there was.
Because I really, really love what I do, the course I study, the modules I take, and the feeling of learning and being proficient in something genuinely difficult. Such a satisfying feeling as fully understanding every aspect of a topic you’d once view with despair and fear is rare, and even though chemistry, for example, is all but irrelevant to me next year, that’s all the more reason to get to grips with it now: I’ll never get another chance.
Another note to add is that I’ve been in this situation before. Not in a pandemic, of course; but a few years ago, before I’d even sat GCSEs, we moved house during the school term in around April time, and there were no schools in the new area to move into. Instead, I was registered as “home-schooled” and allowed to teach myself anything I liked for the best part of 6 months until I rejoined a “proper” school in September.
By far that was the most educational experience of my life, and once I’d left I found myself missing the solace, the independence, the almost arbitrarily precise level of detail I could look into with any topic, not really needing to worry about whether or not it was “on the exam” at the end of it.
I truly discovered my love for learning, reading, philosophy, maths, languages and science during that period, locked away at home. If I’m really honest, I’m almost excited about the chance to do that again.
I write this final subheading in quotation marks because now, given utter freedom over how my time is spent, I become the master of my own curriculum and what was previously considered “extracurricular” is now very much a part of the curriculum.
Having a home-bound lifestyle as we all will inevitably have over the next few months means that sleep, exercise, food, academics and hobbies all blend into one. They share the same space, one after the other after the other.
My extracurriculars, if I can still call them that, are majorly reading and writing, though others commonly preside.
At the moment I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist On Mars, a compendium of case studies of patients he’s seen; he always writes such cases with a mixture of entertaining storytelling and penetrating scientific insight.
Other’s I’ve got waiting for me are In The Blink Of An Eye, regarding the causes of the Cambrian Explosion; Arguably by Christopher Hitchens on all matters concerning religion and politics upon which he cared to wax lyrical; The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins which I simply must read to qualify as an evolutionary biologist at all; and many others stacked high upon my bookshelves (both proper and makeshift).
My writing is something I’ve always wanted to improve, always enjoyed producing (more rarely, enjoyed reading back), and which recently I’ve gotten back into. Being a student has certain perks in terms of getting your written work out; student newspapers are always keen for new views, new authors, new voices.
This pandemic, then, I’ve set myself a goal: to write something every day. Mostly, that’ll be here on Medium, where I post most evenings before falling asleep — these articles are primarily on anything I’ve though about during the day, something that’s struck me on going to bed, or a certain issue I’ve cared deeply about for time immemorial. These help me not only stretch my literary muscles but also let me get my thoughts out there into the world and feel like I’m contributing a little something to the information bank of humanity. Other writings of mine are for student newspapers around Cambridge, or simply essays on evolutionary biology (which I see no reason not to, eventually, post here in some edited form anyway).
Finally, I’ve always lived by the philosophy that when an opportunity arises, say yes. I am aware that as I get older, this isn’t necessarily good: I can’t remember where I heard it, but there is a saying that goes along the lines of ‘say yes to everything until you have a career; then, say yes to only things that benefit you’. So far I’m in the former stage where anything that comes up, I’m on it immediately.
That’s why I’m applying, just for this term so far, to be an editor at The Tab, a widely-read student newspaper in Cambridge and that spread across many other Universities as well. I may not get it, but that’s not the point of my philosophy; solely by not applying would I fail myself. Thus, working on that application over the next few days will be a task I need to get done.
Additionally, I’ll likely end up applying to be an Oxfam representative at my college, which is a low-commitment position with a high-reward: the be part of an excellent charity that help millions around the world, and while CV boosting shouldn’t be a primary driver in doing anything, it most certainly is a benefit. Mostly, though, I love being involved, being busy, and being active with new projects or tasks.
After my six months out, I will be glad of the time I’ve had away, to grow and improve myself. I’ll be fitter, happier, healthier, smarter, and more qualified come October. I’ll have achieved things I never would otherwise.
I hope you, too, are able to come out of this as a You 2.0; a bigger, better version of your past self.
That’s all we can ever really hope for, after all.