Rory Morrow, Anthropology Student at Queen’s discusses, in his inimitably witty style, how the limits placed on social lives have impacted on lives, not least in the sphere of sport.
It was befitting. The message simply sent into our QUB Athletics group chat commiserating the extension of restrictions.
It read “Miss our weekly runs”. Although, with hindsight now, the mere three sad-face-with-a-tear-emoji reactions was rather underwhelming. I felt well, whatever the opposite of pleasantly surprised is. Okay, sussed it. My exact reaction was curse, **** (repeatedly) and swear again before I reached the feeling of sad expectance. Like some external force that had been ominously hovering for weeks, my only normal university interaction was anticlimactically curtailed.
It was bearable back in March of last year. When we had Spring hope, as sunshine shone upon fast (ish!) moving figures, the promise of pubs and pints aplenty and Boris’s infamously flawed statement referencing to kicking coronavirus away by Christmas. Instead, we’re back to square one. Once again.
Anyway, athletics-wise, the year 2020 was both morale-lifting and soul-crushing. Personally, it fulfilled my equal yearningsfor companionship and solitude as well as giving me an invaluable outlet during lockdown. However, when I missed the Metro to Monday night training at Mary Peters Track, the fortnight when I couldn’t run outside due to self-isolation, the awkwardly shy vibes that I emitted at my training debut and that all-too-familiar despair of being lapped by proper good athletes on repeat. Highs and lows of amateur athleticism, eh. As a student so far, QUB Athletics has been a whopping high.
Now, good reader, you may have seen word “sports” and thought, “nah, that’s irrelevant for me”. Fair enough. But I believe running is relatable for everyone, no matter how small or obscure a link there is. Its why, not only it is my best participating sport but alongside that role, running is also one of my best social outlets, throughout teenage times andcoronavirus.
Everybody can run, if they choose to (or you know yourself, are late for work or an exam, yikes). We bolt from the blue for long-gone buses and rush to make raucous nights-out while the vibes are still strong. In schoolyears, our infantwisdom convinced us to sprint full tilt, elbows out, absolutely pelting it for canteen queue places.
Whilst many people who previously refused to run, now find themselves signing up (or being signed up) for couch to 5k programmes, across the University, and community-building Parkruns. Biologically different species (animals) run too and that isn’t only lions pursuing their prey. Our own pets subconsciously run, inspired by some urgent matter (like reaching that scatty tennis ball) to move theirpaws quicker. Be it an excited pup searing after a lifelessstick or a classic cat-mouse chase.
Alongside us all (whether properly realising it or not) running, we also observe othersrunning. Rush, rush. Run, run. Everyone was way too chaotically busy to not be running somewhere, sometimebefore coronavirus.
So, if you haven’t yet been properly welcomed to the subconscious hub of part-time runners, then quoting Malcolm Wynn-Jones, “welcome to the inner sanctum.”
Then, roughly ten months ago, our treadmill-like-lives steadied, slowed and with lockdown announced, ground to an altogether halt. No longer were there races for a Wetherspoons booth or frantic dashes through town to start the part-time job shift that funds all those Wetherspoons outings. And whilst running didn’t change officially, its roleshifted from communal to individual. Strava routes,displaying so and so’s monthly achievement became a new norm. One where flirting transformed from tipsy one-liners to how many meaningless, virtual medals your Strava uploads showed. It feels partly wrong to blame running (it hardly caused covid, afterall) yet the things I miss most are those that I ran and rushed for.
However, I also owe those summer loops my gratitude as in an uncertain Spring, my solace came from dragging myself around Outlet laps or heaving myself uphill around Cascum Road. Heck, when the government granted lockdown its summer holidays, those routes I knew so well even proved a solid hangover cure.
QUB Athletics though was something else entirely. Normality to run, laugh, pant, mix and get lost with fellow students. In these strange times (as historians will undoubtedly refer to the pandemic timeline), here was some consistency. While coronavirus killed globally, lockdown-virus also thrived (continuing to now) and from March to May especially, despite all my running and zoom-quiz endeavours, I was testing positive for lockdown-virus until the summer. Maybe it was the pubs again. Actually, it was more the people and hope.
As I joined QUB Athletics, despite most of my social life enduring the fortnight’s mandatory quarantine by the lockdown-virus, I was okay overall. The companionship of QUB Athletics meant that for my first semester, this club became my social safety net. An advisedhand sanitizer, a metaphorical (and equally effective and necessary) face mask to protect my mental health via interacting with people my-age in-person. Mostly though, it defended me from loneliness and total non-university experience. I luckily enjoyed it while it lasted.
Perhaps it functions now (virtually), even if my appreciation is diminished. Online yoga helps, in day-to-day structure and a Microsoft-Teams comradery that doesn’t require being camera-ready. However, as hail hits, desperation increases as teachers across all education levels are forced lock any free house room for live lessons.
Whilst big-brother fantasy-football tactics and spirit-lifting snow days (always welcome) help, as Ian O’Riordan (Irish Times columnist) comments, most athletes (of various sports and levels) are regarded loners. Importantly, we should remember that when needing a head-clearer or some tranquillity for a long-awaited podcast, these lonelier lockdown runs are perfect for such serene-demanding circumstances.
Sometimes I not only survive but surprisingly relish going solo. Yet, as race-fever builds and I long again for Thursday night 10k treks to Titanic, for mainlysocial runners as myself, the lone runs ahead promise to be long and low.
However, now appreciating the highs of QUB (craic!) training, I can’t wait to return even if I end up running in late on an eagerly anticipated date (calendar-wise, sorry ladies).
You can still sign up to the QUB Athletics Club at Queen’s and keep up-to-date with any developments about when their weekly running groups return. During the current lockdown the society has been hosting weekly Yoga sessions, the link to which can be found here.
The QUB Student Law Society are also running a 5K Run in aid of the International Justice Mission, until 6th February. More information can be found here.