Ger Forde reflects on the impact of CV-19

Ger Forde of Slaney Olympic Athletics Club is Wexford’s top Senior male athlete. Following his best cross country season to date, he was looking forward to further enhancing his reputation through 2020 at a national level. However, COVID-19 has meant that, since lockdown in March, all athletics competitions have either been cancelled or postponed. In this article, Forde looks at life under lockdown and his plans for the future.     

Ger Forde with coach and clubmate Jim Stafford.

‘Normal’ is a word mentioned a lot in the news recently when referring to life before and after COVID-19. Commentators referring to life after lockdown speak of the ‘new normal’.   

2019 was just another year in Irish athletics. Like every other serious athlete I had a structured training programme and a pre-determined calendar of races. There were plenty of races to choose from and, championship races aside, I gave considerable thought at the start of the year to constructing my race schedule. This is no longer a headache I am confronted with. 

I will take you back to normal times, towards the end of 2019. 

For anyone not familiar with distance running, there are essentially three seasons – cross country (September to February), track (June to August) and road (all year). Every winter the structure of my training programme is consistent. Included within my weekly schedule is a tempo run of 5k-8k and a hill session of 400m-600m repeats. Then there are the races. Last December I finished 3rd in the National Novice Cross Country Championships in Dunboyne, Co Meath. This gave me great confidence going into 2020. I had been training every day over the Christmas period putting in 160km weekly. I won the Ferrycarrig 5 Mile at the start of January in a time of 25:10, a personal best. 

Next up was the National Intermediate Cross Country in Avondale Park, County Wicklow (Feb 2020).   It was a race I was targeting as I had form in it with two top 6 finishes in the previous 3 years. I finished that race strongly coming from 4th place to take the silver medal after making a break on the final hill. After the cross-country season, a return to the road was imminent.   

Late February I had wins in the Slaney Olympic Enniscorthy 10k and the Gorey Night Run – two of the most enjoyable races on the Wexford fixtures calendar. The next race was scheduled for Sunday March 15th. I was due to race some of the best 5k runners in the country in the heart of Dublin city in the Metro St Brigid’s 5km. Then early that week I was notified that the race had been cancelled. As the days went on, I was coming to the realisation that the outlook was not good for other races as the virus continued to spread. All the specific race targets I had set and the personal bests I had hoped to achieve were put on ice. My plans for the year included improving my 5km and 10km personal bests of 14:51 and 31:19 respectively. I knew that to break these times I needed a few quick races over the summer with competitive fields. These targets may have to wait another year if no races are scheduled in the months ahead. Keeping those time targets has been key to my motivation during the pandemic. Every run and session is a step closer to that personal best.           

Having no races to keep me motivated, it could have been easy to slip out of my routine. Being a teacher makes it a lot easier to keep some structure in my life. I typically train before and after school. Some mornings I will be up at 5:30am for my first run of the day. On my way back from the run I meet a work colleague of Wexford CBS, John Hegarty heading out on his morning jog. Apart from my own training, I enjoy coaching the students in school and keeping them motivated. I take them for 5km runs every Tuesday and Friday. At least I did before the announcement of school closures on March 12th. That changed everything. Teaching from home has forced me, and all teachers, to adapt quickly and get up to pace with online resources and platforms. 

The same principle of adapting to changes in work practise applies equally to athletics. While the pandemic has affected me on the racing front, my typical training day has not altered radically as a result of the restrictions. I run early in the morning before online classes and meetings then get out again for exercise in the evenings. I do a 5km time trial once a week with times hovering between 15:00 and 15:30. However, I would usually be training at a higher intensity this time of year in preparation for the track season. With no races on the calendar, there is little point in peaking too soon and training intensely for something that may not happen. Apart from the running I have been cycling a couple of times a week. Many international runners such as Stephen Scullion and Conor Dooney have been cycling as a means of maintaining fitness during these times

I have my favourite places to train in Wexford and further afield. Top of the list locally are Curracloe Beach and the Raven Forest, the Burrow at Kilmore Quay and Forth Mountain. When in Dublin I enjoy running in the Phoenix Park and along the seafront in Clontarf and Raheny. Looking elsewhere I have a soft spot for the Waterford Greenway and the blueway from Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel. In the first phase of lockdown, all of the places mentioned were outside my 2km radius with the result that my training took place close to home – Crosstown, Wexford Quays and Park. This remains the case with the current 5km limit.

The fact that I have managed to keep a good structure to my day over the past couple of months has ensured that I have been as busy as ever. Teaching students on the autism spectrum, I have seen at first hand the effects of being taken out of routine. Minor alterations to routine and lifestyle can be a cause of great stress and anxiety to every one of us. While teachers have also been subject to a breakdown in routine, the school timetable continues to provide a clear plan for the day. 

The absence of a weekend race in my diary is a something I really miss. I miss the opportunity to push my body to its limits. I miss the success and medals that come with racing. I miss the company of fellow athletes when training, especially on long runs. With the progressive easing of restrictions in the weeks ahead we will hopefully see many of the elements of the  runner’s world gradually coming back. In the past two weeks, as a result of the first easing of restrictions I have been able to train with my coach Jim Stafford whilst keeping the 2-metre social distance. From June 8th I am looking forward to accessing other areas for training when the travel restrictions for exercising are increased to 20km.      

Over the next couple of months, we will continue to adapt to the pandemic. This time last year I was 7th in the Athletics Ireland National Road 5k in the Phoenix Park. This year I must settle for a solo 5k time trial. Last summer I did two weeks of altitude training in Font Romeu in southern France. This year I might do two weeks of training in Killarney and Kerry in August if restrictions are lifted further. While one will not get the same altitude and physical gains in Kerry, the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the lakes of Killarney will provide a more than fitting domestic equivalent. 

We will get back racing, we will return to school, and we will fight this virus. As a former United States President, Barack Obama, once said “When times get tough, we don’t give up. We get up”.   We are currently adapting to the changes which that pandemic has brought and living through the new normal. We all still crave our old routines, remembering the way things were before the lockdown. Yet, when all this is behind us, we will never forget the virus that shut down our country and the sad loss of so many people.