How a 90-minute scavenger hunt can spice up your lockdown

or the first time in months, the kids were ready to go on our Sunday walk without my prompting (or, let’s be honest, nagging). Not only were they ready, they were excited. Like most families around the country, we have done more walking in the last 10 months than we ever thought humanly possible. As lockdown drags on, however, what was once an enjoyable weekend activity has become an enforced frogmarch around our north London neighbourhood.

But this weekend was different. This weekend we were taking part in the 90 Minute Dash, a socially distanced scavenger hunt. Would this be the answer to our lockdown walking woes? I really hoped so.

The 90 Minute Dash was created by Secret London Runs, a company that, in non-Covid times, offers guided runs through London. Started by keen runner Vanessa Cain-Tait five years ago, the group offers 15 different running tours around the capital. Most of them are themed and many tie in with national holidays and events. There’s the London Power Women run in March, for example, that ties in with women’s history month and celebrates the city’s unsung heroines. Other tours take place year-round such as their popular Secret Gin Run, a 10km route that ends with a well-deserved gin and tonic.

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Of course, social distancing rules and group running tours are not a good mix right now – which is where our 90 Minute Dash comes in. Soon after lockdown was introduced last March, Vanessa pivoted her tours online and started putting on virtual events.

“When lockdown began I set up a Facebook group and asked people to send in a photo from their daily run or walk,” explains Cain-Tait. “People began sharing photos of views or historical sights or art that they had seen and I thought it would be fun to put on a virtual event.”

Secret London Runs now holds a number of online events, but the 90 Minute Dash is the original. The way it works is as follows: teams of up to five people have 90 minutes to find 60 items for a total of 80 points. All teams receive the checklist of ‘treasures’ on a Google sheet; the objects can be anything from a hanging basket to a church. Once you find the item, you must take a selfie with it and upload it to your sheet. After 90 minutes, your time is up and you are locked out of the shared document. The Secret London Runs team then tots up the scores and announces the winner.

“The teams that do really well are those with members in different locations,” says Cain-Tait. “We’ve had friends who haven’t seen each other in months forming a team, or kids playing with family members in a different county or even country. The teams communicate via WhatsApp and upload their photos to the same shared document.”

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Juliana, a Californian mum living in London, played with her 13-year-old daughter and her parents who live in the States.

“We were looking for something to do with my parents that was interactive and fun,” says Juliana. “We haven’t seen them for over a year, nor do we know when we’ll see them again. This felt like an activity that we could do together and have a shared experience, despite being so separated by Covid.”

Three minutes later, I’m running down the road like a madwoman shouting that I can see ‘something stuck in the tree’

For us, race day starts on a chilly Sunday morning with a 10.30am briefing on Google Meets. Cain-Tait reveals the inventory of objects that we have to find and we get the chance to size up our competition. At 10.40am I receive our instructions by email and we hurry to tie shoe laces and get out the door. The list is divided into six categories: Transport, Nature, Rainbow Doors, Shapes, On the Street and Street Names. There’s also the ‘High Five’ round where we’re asked to find five lots of five things for five points each. So, five photos of round windows, for example, or five different animals. The latter being a little challenging in a city, which is where the mixed teams have an advantage.

We start strong, finding every one of the coloured doors listed along our terraced street, foiled only by the colour orange. We find a double garage, a purple car and a parked motorbike in rapid succession, quickly taking selfies and uploading them to our sheet. The kids race ahead, pointing out house no. 105, some red berries and a car advertising a business.

“This is easy!” we cry. “We’ll have this done in no time”.

Next stop is our local park, where we tick off a climbing tree and a large muddy puddle (not hard given the current inclement weather). We find a semi-ish big looking rock and upload the photo hoping that it will earn us a point, especially as we have no hope of finding a stream or long grass in our suburban neighbourhood.

We then head to the high street, which is where we run into trouble; my husband and I can’t seem to sync the shared document, the kids begin to complain of cold hands and my phone dies. If you’re planning to take part in the next Dash, I would highly recommend bringing an extra phone battery.

But then we discover ‘Cornwall Street’, a road name with two ‘ll’s in it, and we’re back in the game, taking photos and uploading them as fast as we can. With just 20 minutes to go, we find three of the five bridges asked for in the High Five round. With 10 minutes on the clock, my daughter points out a “door knocker shaped like an animal” (a dragonfly, which we all think should earn us a bonus point). Three minutes later, I’m running down the road like a madwoman shouting that I can see “something stuck in the tree”. That’s another point in the Nature round. With just one minute to spare we tick off “tree stump” from our list and head home to discover our total.

In the end we score 59 out of 80 and come fifth in our category – not bad for first-time Dashers. Scores aside, however, the 90 Minute Dash brought a much-needed spring to our lockdown steps: it gave us a sense of purpose, made us work as a team and we walked further than we had in months. Most importantly, however, it was genuinely fun. We can’t wait for the next one.

More information

The next 90 Minute Dashes will be held during half-term on Thursday 18 February and again on Sunday 21 February. The cost to play is £19 for each team of five people.

Secret London Runs also runs a number of other virtual events, including a Catherine of Aragon themed run and the Thursday Challenge, a weekly run that has been particularly popular with families looking to keep busy during lockdown.

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