Running alone

This article first appeared in this week’s edition of the Mayo Newsit’s here.

How much our lives have changed and how rapidly.

Little over a week ago Mayo should have been playing Galway in what might have been a defining clash in a faltering League campaign for us.

We might have been whipped by them, our demotion from the top tier confirmed before we’d left Pearse Stadium. We might, perhaps less probably, have beaten them and then gone on to complete the great escape by getting the better of Tyrone seven days later.

But those two dates have now come and gone and not a ball has been kicked. Nor will one be any time soon, with this year’s League almost certain to be declared null and void, while an old-fashioned pre-qualifier variant of the Championship is possibly the best we can hope for of the summer to come.

Across the country and the wider world, the tapestry upon which great sporting contests are painted lies bare, as match after match is postponed, tournaments are mothballed and supporters’ thoughts are fixed instead on keeping the virus out of the house and keeping enough food and other essentials inside it.

At its best sport provides moments of pure theatre. But like the theatres, as well as the cinemas, the pubs and all the rest, sports grounds everywhere are closed and silent.

The more vainglorious politicians have taken to evoking metaphors of wartime to describe a global crisis that is, in living memory, unprecedented. This is no war, though, and those same politicians are anything but wartime leadership material.

It is, however, a pandemic and Covid-19 is an enemy of humankind that needs to be defeated. Which it will – by the ingenuity of scientific research rather than by bombs and guns – but, sadly, only after exacting a terrible toll in terms of human lives lost.

The coronavirus has also succeeded in doing something thought impossible in the modern era: it has focused all the world’s attention on one subject. That hasn’t happened since the advent of social media. It hasn’t, in truth, occurred for a generation, with 9/11 arguably the last such time when a single event shook the entire world.

We’ve much time to ponder as we live through these strange, unsettling days. I find myself sometimes thinking ahead, to that period when all this is over and we can undertake again what now seem like impossibly carefree pursuits. I miss all those things.

One of the pastimes I feel the loss of the most right now is my weekly Park Run on a Saturday morning. A global phenomenon – a benign one this time – this 5k run is hugely popular across Ireland. For the last 18 months or so I’ve been taking part in it, mostly at St Anne’s Park here in Dublin but also a few times in Claremorris, where there’s a cracking route in the amenity park that snakes around Clare Lake.

But these days I’m running alone. In one sense that’s okay – we’re not on lockdown yet so at least I can still get out and run. In any event, running is, at its essence, a private, individual kind of torture.

I do, though, find it an easier test and far more uplifting experience when I run as part of a large group. It’s a shared escapade, each of us part of something bigger. But like so many things, football included, that we value enjoying – or enduring – as part of a bigger group, it’s one that has to be forsworn for now.

But even running alone has its compensations. When I’m out in these pandemic days I find that, in that particular Irish country way, everyone up here in the capital is now cheerily greeting everyone else they encounter.

In our own different ways, we’re doing what we can to stick together through this. To a large degree, we’re all country people now.

7 thoughts on “Running alone

  1. @Wonderfull.. piece of writing…Less ambitious than yourself.. I’ll make do with a brisk walk!… Enjoy your runs Willie Joe!

  2. Great piece WJ – the shared experience is such a fundamental demand of the human condition. Whether its the cinema or the football or the park on a sunny afternoon, we crave it, like a validation to our existence. So these are strange times indeed in that regard.

    However, I do think Covid-19 is hitting some sort of reset button in many of us, allowing us to focus on the important things in life, for those lucky enough to be with their nearest and dearest. That is my silver lining, on an otherwise bleak and ominous cloud.

    They say in Wuhan they’re hearing birds sing that haven’t sung for decades and, as you’ll be keenly aware yourself, the lack of near constant traffic, in the air and on the road, has created a rural like atmospheric stillness in the capital which is very beguiling. Stay safe everyone and keep your distance!

  3. Might see you on the Claremorris route sometime Willie Joe, it sounds great!!

  4. Strange times indeed WJ. I am over the initial shock of no football and have accepted it for what it is. Have been self isolating for a week while waiting for a covid test result for another household member. Came back today as negative. Dodged it this time but long road ahead. Back to work on Monday where physical distancing is not really possible as work in a factory. What if someone at work tests positive? Will everyone who feels unwell stay home?
    Problem is it only takes a few to disregard the rules to infect many. If league is null and void we will have dodged a bullet again! We will all have tales to tell before this is over. Best of luck to all.

  5. @Bogman… Must be something of a relief to you!… You are giving the message, so you are doing something positive to help with the message!…Yeah, Maximum Compliance is the only way to go!!… Don’t think Mayo would have gone down tough .. Although we still might the GAA are currently comtemplating playing off Rounds 6 & 7 at some yet unspecified date’s… Aspirational as it seems at the moment…. The better Irish Society’ collectively does, (and indeed all the World’s Humanity) in this time of Crisis, the sooner Sports will return!

  6. Great piece, WJ, and expressed as always, with a great sense of humanity.
    However, I feel our key leaders have performed admirably throughout this health crisis, putting people first, and constantly reiterating the need to go the “hard yard”. Of course, our friend Brolly couldn’t pass up on the chance of getting cheap clicks.

    Michael D. wrestled with his conscience, before consenting to charge Maeve with the job of minding his precious canines, thus freeing up time to write a beautiful poem.

    Of course we all long for the GAA but that will return in good time. Can’t see the league being completed, but I’m sure the powers that be will come up with something creative for next season, so that no county is adversely affected.

    I think TG4 are replaying AI finals – would be great to see the ’51 final if they can dig it out of the archives.. lol

  7. @Man of Aran. How do you think our ‘Key’ leaders done in the first 7 days of March?. It’s a fact that 230 people had died in Italy from Covid 19 by the 7th of March.. the day Ireland were due to play Italy in Rugby..Do you think that the Italians flights bringing in I don’t know how many should have been allowed. Extensive testing was done in a small North Italian Town. Over 50% were found to be infected with Covid 19… That and no request was made to stop Irish people going to Cheltenham…An awful lot that has been done, I commend the Government and those in Key positions for. But they don’t get a free pass, for some of the things that should have been done, but unfortunately weren’t!

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