It has been a year unlike any before for most of us—one year of a pandemic that has changed so many lives. Changes had to be made, whether for the good or bad; some are still struggling, others have been luckier. But what’s most important – please, don’t give up. Keep up your routines, develop some new maybe. One new routine for some of the Cologne Celtics is running. The Celts decided to get involved with Darmstadt GAA’s initiative #NoLazyHurl. That was the start of discovering the joy of running for a lot of us. So let me take you through a retrospective of the past twelve months.
The in-club committee WhatsApp discussion rolled on for a while. We had planned this club trip with our club partners Städtepartnerschaftsverein Köln-Cork for the last few months, and I had visited Cork in January to help plan the whole thing out and coordinate with the St. Finbarr’s GAA club in Cork. Our players had just completed our biggest training session ever, and we felt ready to play a series of friendly matches with one of the genuine giants of Cork hurling. The hype was real, and this would be a massive undertaking by our club. But this corona-thing in the back of our minds was now moving more and more to the front pages. In the end, we decided as a club to postpone the trip due to fears that we might bring this new virus with us to Ireland. It would put a shadow over what should be a fantastic trip. This was our discussion on Wednesday… that Thursday, Ireland announced school closures for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has been a year unlike any before for most of us. Looking back to March 2020, the lockdowns, working-from-home, school closures etc., all came in quite quickly when they did come in. Looking back, it seems late in the game to cancel our trip, but that same night there were 45,000 football fans packed into Anfield watching Liverpool play Atletico Madrid, and three days later, Spain was in a tight lockdown. It was an extraordinary time. Having decided as a club to cancel our trip, we soon received word that GAA club activities would also be suspended – matches and training. Looking around, Italy was amid the crisis, and we had heard the stories of the severe lockdowns in China; it was only a matter of time before it hit Germany. Still, it was difficult to imagine as we had those WhatsApp messages flying backwards and forwards that we would still be in a lockdown a year later.
To keep players fit, maintain the motivation, and get a bit of buzz going, the Celts decided to get involved with Darmstadt GAA’s initiative #NoLazyHurl. This initiative just involved all our club members recording the sport they were doing away from the training pitch, and jogging quickly became the main sport we were doing. It also meant we could plot the distance we ran on a map of Europe to show how far we were running. Before March 2020, I had done probably 10 jogs in the outdoors in the last 10 years (not including treadmills), and since the start of #NoLazyHurl, I have completed close to 1000km of running…
It was the 17th of February 2019, and I had woken up to find my right knee had exploded in size. It looked about twice the size of my left knee, and although that first day it felt strange and movement was difficult, overall, it was not too bad. My family suspected it was “water on the knee” or knee effusion and advised to RICE it (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). I could walk around with a compression sock around my knee, but even that was strange and clunky. During the week, it got worse. By Thursday, I had shooting pains in my left side and a right knee that was painful to put any weight on and by the weekend, the pain was so bad I could barely move around at all. My local doctor advised me to take some steroids, but it did not bring about the required improvement. Eventually, I had to go to the hospital with it.
At this time, I was in the final part of my school placement and the final bit of my master’s degree. I ended up having to delay completing it for a couple of weeks due to going to the hospital and the recovery period. It turned out that I had inflammatory mono-arthritis, which may have been brought about due to stress and burn-out. I was in the hospital for four days, where they (thankfully) found no underlying conditions. It was a bizarre situation to be in; here I was – 27 years of age – and I was in a hospital room with lads twice my age and older, and I couldn’t move around. Getting to the bathroom and walking up and down the corridors was about as much as I could physically do. Sport and physical activity felt a long way away…
Eventually, I recovered, and with a cocktail of vitamins, painkillers, and antibiotics, I completed my advanced teaching placement. From there, I made the move to Germany, and since then, I have had no real health issues. A nice thing to be able to say during a global pandemic.
Spring 2009 – 2018
As a teenager, I liked running and keeping fit, and I was regularly in the gym, whether in Oakgrove in Mahon or in the Mardyke Gym in Cork City, which we could access as students at University College Cork. That was where I did my running… indoors and on machines. My girlfriend cannot really understand or see the appeal of running on a machine indoors, and after a year of running around outdoors, I am now also struggling to see why I preferred that for many years. At the time, I had playlists upon playlists designed for the gym. These playlists took hours to put together and were essentially a form of procrastination. Heavy metal and fast-tempo rock music specifically chosen for it. If I wanted to go for a fast kilometre, I would turn on some Biffy Clyro “Boom, Blast and Ruin” and turn the speed rate up to 14-16km an hour, and just run to try and catch up with the music.
In Spring 2009, I ran in my school’s 10km “sponsored walk,” and I completed it in 51 minutes, finishing second in the school. In the recent hit TV show (based on ´the successful book) „Normal People“, the protagonist Connell stated that he felt like he was „… walking around trying on a hundred different versions of (him)self,” and I think we all go through that to some degree. At that time, my fitness levels ensured I would never be picked last in PE, as the better footballers etc., knew I could use my speed and fitness to cover for them. This gave me self-confidence when I needed it, and it was a big part of who I thought I was.
A couple of months later, I ran as part of a relay team in the Cork City Marathon, and I completed one of the longest legs – again at around 10km. That was a glorious day with the sun shining and huge crowds along the route. It felt fantastic! At 17, you feel like you can take on the world. Turning into St. Patrick’s Street on a glorious day with thousands of people gathered there, it is difficult to even describe. If you could bottle that feeling, you would be on the way to a multi-million-dollar industry. I crossed the line and thought that I would be back for more in the years to come. In fact, I assumed I would complete a full marathon by the age of 30… at 29; that has not happened…
Following university (and losing my Mardyke membership), I did not really do much sport. Even in my final year, my levels dropped, and I did a lot less sport than before. Maybe too much drinking and socialising during Erasmus led to a loss of conditioning… I was doing a bit of swimming here and there, but not a whole lot beyond that. Between 2015 and 2016, I lived in Dortmund, and I went to more professional sports events than before but played and did less than ever. By the time 2017-2018 came around, sports had come to an almost complete stop. Running and jogging? I had not gone running in years by that stage. I cannot really say why… I did not make the time for it; I did not make it part of my routine, my motivation levels dropped, my physical condition declined, and it faded away from things I wanted to do or even thought about. It can become really easy to lose fitness, lose that drive and just find excuses.
When the lockdowns came in, and we started working from home, it felt like a new beginning. Now all the excuses were gone; it was time to find something positive to do during this time… to find some kind of lockdown project. I did not know at the time that it would be running.
It is now March 2021, and so far, I have completed 200km this month. Since January, I have run well over 300km, and, to be honest, as I took January off, it means I have run 300km+ in two months. I now go running between four and five times a week and have raised my output to between 9-12km a run for each run. Thankfully, I live in a great part of Bonn, Lengsdorf, where there are some great running trails dotted around the area with plenty of green areas. Lengsdorf, Duisdorf, Brüser Berg, Röttgen, Ückesdorf and Endenich have become my playground. It is a bit mad to think that I spent my life in Ireland living next to the Mahon walkway in Cork City, and I rarely used it for running. Running has become a crucial part of my routine, and it has made working from home office a gratifying experience. I think my mental and physical health would be in a much worse place if I wasn’t getting out every day and doing these distances.
I am lucky that my girlfriend, Ute, goes running as well, as she was the one to get me out and going at the start. I remember the first run I went on post-arthritis, and it felt strange, I was constantly worried about my knee, but I got through it. I had started back doing sport by joining the Celts, and, besides a few times of it feeling awkward, the knee was holding up. Once the first lockdown came in, I started running myself, and this time, I started listening to podcasts instead of developing big playlists. With a podcast in my ear, I do not have to flick through music to find what I want to listen to, and it has become more a part of my routine. If I want to listen to “Football Weekly” by “The Guardian”, I go running, if I want an hour to myself to listen to a podcast about the Thirty Years War, I go running, if I want to chill with Turk and JD from „Scrubs“, I put on “Fake Doctors, Real Friends” and go for my run. It has become my time to get some fresh air and relax before starting my workday on the laptop. For that hour, the pandemic and all of it is far away. It beats commuting and running for the bus and the train hands-down.
This pandemic is rolling ever onwards, and who knows when we can return to the office again. Honestly, I have now gotten used to home office and want to continue here when I can. In terms of work-life balance, it suits me, and running has become part of that. Even if I return to the office and life becomes busier, I will need to find a way to integrate my runs into my week. It has definitely been a massive positive from this whole corona experience.
#RunningHome, Motivation, Routine, and Advice on How to Start
Motivation and time are needed to get going. The pandemic gave me the time for it, and finding podcasts at that time was what got me started. Music was great when I wanted to show off in the gym, but it is not something that would now get me up four or five times a week to go out and go. Each time I go out now, I know I will return having listened to something of interest rather than have listened to music tunes that I’ve heard many times before. If I don’t like a song or it does not fit my mood and change it to something more fitting, it takes me out of my run and off my stride. Now, there are some podcasts that I only allow myself to listen to when running. My last run featured a discussion on football and professional sport’s role in the climate crisis and what actions can reduce their carbon footprint. Last week, I listened to a discussion on China’s influence in Africa, another one on the Vikings in Dublin, and recaps of some “Scrubs” episodes from their first season by the two main actors (Zach Braff and Donald Faison). However, that does not work for Ute as she prefers to listen to nature and enjoy the sights of the local area. It is all about finding what works for you.
The Celt’s #NoLazyHurl, a record for times, distances, and days of runs, also got my motivation going. These lists motivate me, and if there are no lists or records, it does not work for me. I use the Strava App now to record my runs which takes distance, speeds, splits into account, and at times I have had issues with it not recording or jumping distances, and I would get annoyed. My girlfriend would then point out that I still completed the run and the kilometres even if Strava did not fully record it… she does not understand my need to have it recorded and the specific distance listed… Setting goals throughout last year was vital, and around September, when I had around 400km completed, I became almost obsessed with hitting 600km, which I managed in early December. Having targets and knowing what I need to do to hit them really focuses my mind.
Having achieved my 2020 goal, it became that bit more difficult to start again in 2021. January passed, and for personal reasons and lack of motivation, I did not really get out much (only 15km) but then, out of nowhere, our club was contacted about #RunningHome. #RunningHome is an initiative to raise money for homelessness charities – Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust – in Ireland. It involves the participants running the distance from where they are now in the world to their homeplace in Ireland and collecting sponsorship to do so. I am running the distance with fellow Celt Laura, and our goal is 1256km which we look well in line to achieve. There are a few other Celts involved, and so far, our fundraising has raised around €1200 for the Peter McVerry Trust in Ireland. A fantastic charity to help and a great initiative to do our part for! I was at a talk by Peter McVerry a few years ago, and his charity is one I am delighted we are helping. #RunningHome and having a set goal to achieve is what I needed to lace up the shoes again and get going.
Here is the link to our #RunningHome donation page.
The best advice I can give is to get into a routine that works for you. Before work, after work, once a week, once a fortnight – whatever works. To get started, just get good running shoes and then get out the door. Announce to the world (or whoever you are living with) that you are going for a run and then just get out the door. Once that door is closed and you’ve your shoes on, you better go for that run as if you come straight back in, you will look like a bit of an eejit…
Remember that the only person you are competing with is yourself. If you go for a run for the first time in months (or years) and complete 2km, it is 2km more than you have completed in a long time. If you run for 10 minutes – again, it is more than you did last week… Over time and if you stick with it, it does become easier, and eventually, it becomes routine. When it becomes „routine“, you are then in the golden zone. At a time when many of us have big goals and dreams on hold for what feels like an eternity, being able to say, “at least I went for a run today” can make a huge difference to your mental well-being.
It has been a strange year, and the strangeness looks set to continue a bit longer, but I can look back on it and know that at least one great thing came from it.
Oisín’s Podcast Playlist:
- “The Guardian Football Weekly” – great chats and discussions about football and football-related issues from around the world. It feels like being in the pub with the lads at a time when that is not possible.
- “The Blindboy Podcast” – featuring that lad who sang “Horse Outside”, a great podcast that explores subjects from history, mental health, psychology, music and current affairs to all sorts of “hot takes”.
- “The David McWilliams Podcast” – the podcast of Irish economist David McWilliams. He discusses political and social issues and how they impact the economy and people generally. A very accessible podcast even for those of us with no obvious interest in economics.
- “Fake Doctors, Real Friends” – the Scrubs re-watch podcast with JD and Turk. “Scrubs” was my favourite sitcom growing up, and I even used it to learn German before big oral exams or listening exams. It is great to listen to the guys discuss these episodes almost 20 years later.
- “History Extra”/”History of the Netherlands”/”Irish History Podcast”/“Eine Stunde History“ – I love history and learning about different aspects of history from around the world. “The History of Rome” podcast is another one I can recommend.