Sonia O’Sullivan: Some blood boiling on the pandemic tracks

We can all slow down and be more observant of others out getting their daily exercise

It’s still hard to believe it’s now over six weeks since I last enjoyed a once normal run with anyone else. Since St Patrick’s Day, to be exact, when I joined my friend Niamh for a gentle speed session at Nortons Park, a short 20-minute drive from home on the outskirts of Melbourne.

We’d no idea how quickly things would change: that same night was the last time I went to the track to meet up with the runners that I coach from the Mentone Athletics Club.

I’d turned up that evening with a hurley as my social distancing measure, trying to bring some fun to the matter. It was still very early days of keeping your distance, when you were still met with raised eyebrows and people wondering if this was really serious. Since then the club haven’t once met up for a group session, and we’ve been communicating virtually ever since via email and WhatsApp.

Now every week I sit down and count up on the weekly email: how many weeks we’ve been running alone, and also how to motivate everyone to keep putting in the effort and the miles. In some strange way we have got closer through motivating each other.


In those six weeks we’ve also run two virtual 3,000m challenges against Ballymore Cobh athletics club and Cobh Triathlon. I’ve found myself joining in, and surprised to get that extra boost of energy just knowing there was something to look forward to on the weekend and everyone’s effort contributed to a team score.

It’s hard to just go out and run around without a purpose each day. As much as maintaining health and fitness, we need to be creative at this time to help keep moving forward and closer to the reality we will face in sport in the coming weeks and months.

In daily life we are all forced to stay close to home. We’ve been fortunate so far in Australia, being so far away from other countries, to be able to contain and manage the spread of Covid-19 within stage three regulations. The greatest benefit of this is that we are not limited to the 2km radius from home. Still there is a sense of responsibility that you don’t want to stray too far from home and keep things as local as possible.

Then there is the other issue of running with the extra amount of people out on the paths and exercising in the parks, all looking for that little escape of their own. The once simple daily run has completely changed from when all you had to think about was lacing up the shoes and head out the door.

My only running partner now is Winnie, our brown and white Border Collie, who loves to run along beside me or tag along behind when the excitement of rushing out the gate wears off. I’m used to running and chatting with friends and the time just goes by so quickly, but now Winnie is the only soundboard – and also the measure of when we approach people on the path and decide which way to go. This includes weighing up the distance, the speed and the potential for the approaching person to move one way or the other.

It gets even more complicated when there are two people who are walking either side of the path, keeping distance from each other of about 1.5m: do I pick a side, jump onto the road quickly, or just race through the middle and split the social distance for that split second?

What was once a relaxing form of escape has become a sort of obstacle course. I try to create some rules in my head, things I probably do instinctively in normal times, only now because there is more pedestrian traffic on the paths and trails it’s a constant weighing up of all the variants; speed, distance and sometimes even the reaction of the people you encounter along the way.

I am generally fairly relaxed when out for a run, like to greet people with a smile and “good morning”, although I am often perplexed when the greeting is not returned and people look at me like “do I know you?” or with some fear in their eyes that just by speaking I have entered their personal space .

The general rule of thumb would be to keep left, pass on the right, and ease up and ease up if people are coming straight towards you. Also warn people as you approach from behind if necessary. Again you have to weigh things up, and decide what is the safest and most efficient way to pass people without causing any fear or distress? It’s a bit like taking the rules of the road and the rules of cycling onto the footpaths and respecting other people as well as enjoying your run.

Then there are some things that if I were a dog would certainly get my hackles up, and when I become a bit more defensive than receptive of people around me on my run. Like when I turn up at the local running track and there are people riding around on bikes, and worse still crossing lanes, which is something I just can’t cope with.

It’s an interesting observation in itself, to see people walking around the running track who have obviously never set foot on one before. But this is where the etiquette goes to a whole new level, especially when the track is your playground. Everyone else has to play by the rules; no bikes, no prams, no dogs.

Only run in an anti-clockwise direction, particularly on the inside lanes; runners on the inside lanes, walkers on the outside, and just like when you are crossing a road, always look up and down the track before crossing, A faster runner in lane one is going to crash straight into you if you don’t look before stepping out onto the track.

Last week at the track there was a woman with a pram and a dog walking in lane one, which did get my blood boiling a little. Even I tried to see the funny side of it, to keep going without the stress. Not so the woman. When I asked her to move from lane one to the outer lanes she refused and called up some man who came yelling and screaming at me as if I’d committed some terrible crime. There was no explaining any basic track etiquette here.

Then there are the people who bring young kids on bikes and scooters onto the bike path, which at certain times is more like a commuter highway, where people ride along at 30km/h. You have to be so aware of surroundings and expect anything, but perhaps some of these people have no idea as its all new and unexplored territory.

You just can’t get too annoyed and bothered, as then you lose the whole purpose of being out there. We can all slow down a bit and be more observant and vigilant in how we approach others also out getting their daily exercise. There are currently no races that we need to be ready for, so it’s all about maintaining physical fitness and enjoying the mental benefits of time outdoors. Stay safe.