Lockdown: Getting off on the right foot
Dr David Cornwall’s mission to conquer Aberdeen one street at a time
By Daniel Hesp
Courtesy of Dr David Cornwall
Dr David Cornwall knows running. He knows sun, snow, hail, rain. He knows Octopus’s Garden by the Beatles. He knows streetlights, Christmas lights and Halloween in half-light. Most importantly, he knows Aberdeen. A university academic, during lockdown Dr David Cornwall has worked to overcome the restrictions in an innovative way — running every street in the Granite City. The question that I went to him with, beyond being extremely interested to hear about his experience, was what he had learned about running and its potential for combatting lockdown gloom. The story that follows is incredible.
When Boris Johnson first declared a UK national lockdown back in March 2020, public exercise was hugely affected. However, as a Type 1 diabetic, Dr Cornwall was doubly limited in the exercise he could do. A keen runner designated ‘at risk’ meant that he could not run and train with his usual run group at the Metro Running Club:
‘At the time when we first had lockdown it was advised that we didn’t mix in groups. So, I thought ‘Well what I’ll do is I’ll find something I can do on my own and make sure I keep running.’
So, Dr Cornwall adapted his training regime. Initially, the idea to run every street in Aberdeen was provoked by a desire to explore the city. Upon finding that he had only run 12-15% of Aberdeen’s streets, Dr Cornwall saw potential not only for a challenge, but to familiarise himself with places he wouldn’t usually frequent. Using CityStrides, an app that allowed him to track all of the streets that he had run, Dr Cornwall was able to carve Aberdeen into manageable chunks. In addition to this, once he had started to run in places that he had never been before he began to realise more fully that his perception of Aberdeen had been limited to ‘the same routes’. For example, ‘the major thing I saw in all the places I went in Aberdeen was this community. I wasn’t aware of all the community centres, and all the leisure centres and the places that bring people together in Aberdeen. Because you just do the things you do, you don’t see everybody else doing it.’
Naturally, as maintaining momentum over such a long period of time is a difficult task, motivation is bound to flag. The social aspect of his training was no longer possible. Isolated from his own running community and without any training partners, there was no one immediately there to push him on. However, for Dr Cornwall, competition remained a large motivator. Through the social fitness network, Strava, he could see that another runner was ticking off the streets ahead of him. Finding his personal battle under threat, Dr Cornwall wasn’t going to give up. In pursuit of the other runner, percentage by percentage he inched his way closer to the target. By 50% they were neck and neck. At this stage, each had run around 500 miles. However, their competition would not be realised, and for personal reasons the other runner dropped out, leaving Dr Cornwall to continue alone. Without a competitor to push him, he was faced with a dilemma. Feeling alone and uninspired, his reaction was ‘I’m just going to stop’.
Nonetheless, with perseverance Dr Cornwall found another way to motivate himself. His family were supporting him, the running community on Strava were watching him, he could not give up. Upon opening a JustGiving page, Dr Cornwall started running for a selfless cause, the Miscarriage Association:
‘I realised I can do some good, rather than for self-fulfilment. I can actually make some money for a charity that needs it. […] I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it but actually fundraising made a big difference […] I thought, I’ve got to see it through, I’ve got to finish it.’
Encouraged, Dr Cornwall was able to complete his goal of running all of the streets in Aberdeen by the end of 2020.
He finished at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. On this, he expressed his wish to pay testament to the hard-working members of the NHS, police force, and ambulance service.
‘I wanted to finish there because those are the people who we should thank. I wanted [to finish] and say thank you for the people that are still working.’
After spending months on the roads, he mentioned that the police and ambulance vehicles were very prevalent and always working, especially since there were fewer vehicles on the streets at the time, and fewer people travelling to and from work.
By getting out into the city and experiencing Aberdeen at its best and its worst, Dr Cornwall broke through his series of monotonous run-routes and found a world that, despite having lived there for years, could still surprise him. Consequently, the journey that started as a personal project to combat lockdown limitations is reaching people, not only in his immediate circle, but beyond it. He hopes that, by getting out and being seen, he may inspire others to do the same:
‘I think a lot of people don’t realise that just by taking part in things, just by being there and actively showing that you can do it, it helps someone else think ‘actually maybe I can do that.’ You probably don’t even see it, but I think it can really help.’
To answer the initial question posed in my introduction, running is not a cure at all — and certainly one does not have to go to the lengths that Dr Cornwall did to alleviate the frustrations of lockdown. However, the benefits of leaving the house and experiencing one’s environment cannot be denied. By divulging yourself to the outside world, you not only benefit physically from a boost in serotonin and a change of scenery, you may help others to do the same. In Dr Cornwall’s words, ‘Go and see somewhere different, somewhere new. […] You might notice something that makes you think, you see things when you’re out that take your mind off whatever issue you may be suffering with.’
Finally, for anyone struggling to find the motivation to take that first step out the door, Dr Cornwall has a message for you:
‘Very often, if I ever think that I don’t want to run, that’s exactly the reason I should run. I don’t think I’ve had any occasion when I’ve ever been out for a run and I’ve thought ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ […] I’d urge anyone to give it a go.’