Monday, 22 June 2020

Virtual Running in the Time of Covid-19

This weekend I ran on a track for the first time in months. Dulwich College has a 300m track which is currently open to the public so I cycled down to take a look. I wasn't feeling particularly fit, but I enjoyed the feeling of just going round and round...

Dulwich College running track

The track at Ladywell Arena used by my club Kent AC remains closed for now, but as with many tracks across the country plans are being made for how some running could start again within the current Covid-19 restrictions of no more than 6 people taking part in exercise together and 2 metres distancing. I joined an England Athletics webinar a couple of weeks ago all about doing risk assessments for re-opening tracks. Some have already opened based on zoning so that two or three groups can use space at same time - for instance at Milton Keynes Athletic Club's Stantonbury track they have been  experimenting with having one group in lanes 1-4 and another in lanes 5-8, with the in-field area used by throwers.  I would say it's fairly easy to keep a safe distance on track if numbers are low, although a strict 2 metres separation at all times is more or less impossible as people will pass each other.

I also went for a run last week around the Royal/Victoria Dock in East London, including passing the Excel Centre. I usually go there for the  annual London Marathon expo but this April of course it was cancelled and the Excel converted to a temporary Nightingale Hospital. With numbers hospitalised by Covid-19 declining the hospital has been mothballed. Still with at least 42,000 deaths in the UK so far and the pandemic still raging across the world we should be cautious about rushing back to 'business as usual', including in running.

Victoria Dock
In the mean time many of us have got used to different kinds of virtual running, including combining our solo efforts online through OpenTrack, Strava etc in a semblance of racing and social running.

On the day that the London Marathon was due to take place, 26 April 2020, I took part in the 2.6 Challenge. The idea was to do some 2.6 themed activity and then donate to one of the charities who had lost out on fundraising due to the Marathon not taking place. For my challenge I ran up and over the hill in Nunhead Cemetery 26 times. I also did a  2.23 mile run in the same place in May as part of 'I Run with Maud'. Runners across the world took part in honour of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery,  killed in an apparent racist murder while running in Brunswick, Georgia on 23rd February (hence 2.23).

Kent AC has arranged and been involved in a number of virtual races. At the end of May there was a competition between some of the clubs from the Surrey League and Met League cross country competitions, involving club members running five miles each with the team result based on top 12 scorers. I knew I wasn't going to be anywhere near the scorers, so I decided to run a proper undulating cross country course rather than worry too much about the time.  I did my five miles around one of my favourite places - Ashridge on the Herts/Bucks border near to Berkhamsted. This is a large National Trust woodland estate where I once worked on an archaeology project, famous for its bluebells and deer among other things. Definitely recommended for a run if you are ever in the area.

A couple of weeks previously there was 'Kent does Comrades'. Basically loosely seeded teams of  eight had to each complete the 55 mile distance of the iconic South African ultra-marathon. Around 120 people from Kent AC took part, my modest contribution being a 3 mile leg around Burgess Park following the parkrun course. Other virtual races in the club have included a UTMB challenge,  with teams having to reach 32,939 feet of elevation - but mostly on the hills of South London rather than Mont Blanc (Hilly Fields, Greenwich Park and the infamous Canonbie Road in Forest Hill were popular destinations, and my friend Adrian Dracup did 50k around Blythe Hill Fields as his contribution). I missed that one.

I also did a 5k in Peckham Rye in a Louise Michel Sports Club virtual race at the beginning of May.

Of course in all this virtual racing, the running is as real as ever. The virtual racing element does make a real difference though, it's amazing how knowing that your time is contributing to a team - albeit scattered far and wide in time and space - makes you push that bit harder. It's like having somebody at your shoulder encouraging you on. Running in a physical crowd of a couple of hundred bodies, as I usually do every Saturday morning, seems unimaginable right now. But hopefully it won't be too long in coming back.

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