Quarantine Running in Dublin

Quarantine Running in Ireland

I’m one of the lucky ones in this weird time that we’re suspended in. My job is largely unaffected by COVID-19, my family and friends are safe, and I live in a country, Ireland, whose swift measures have helped keep the country in some state of relative normalcy. We can still go outside and essential shops are well-stocked and not overcrowded.

Many people, like me, are picking up old hobbies or finally committing to finishing that book – for me that is piano and Ulysses, respectively. That being said, this is tough. My family is back in the US, so I find myself on the brink of a Molly Ringwald caliber meltdown whenever I see the US news – and that was before the pandemic. 

I love to travel and most of my friends will tell you that I am rarely in Dublin on weekends. Like many, I have had to upend my summer plans while we wait for this all to be over. Since moving abroad, I have been taking full advantage of seeing as much of this part of the world while it’s relatively close (weekend in Nice, anyone?). But obviously that is not possible under current circumstances, and in the absence of destination races and training weekends, I am left with a 2km government-imposed radius in which to do my workouts. 

Besides that, I’ve had to learn how to work from home full time, as opposed to the occasional perk it used to be. While we technically have more free time to train (or at least I do considering I no longer have afterwork plans…), it can be tough to stick to a routine when there is not a finite goal. 

Put simply, quarantining can be an athlete’s nightmare.

Put simply, quarantining can be an athlete’s nightmare. If you are someone who has built your life around sport, most likely you thrive on competition (races!) and interaction (other humans!) for motivation. Runners are no different. Though we might do the majority of our workouts solo, at the core, we’re pack animals. Most of us thrive on the weekly group run or track workout.

We feed off each other to cross-train or go to actually go to that yoga session. Maintaining mileage alone can be hard and even with all of social media at our fingertips – nothing really beats the same as the high-five at the end of a hill repeat session. 

Happier times on a training weekend in the Alps.
Happier times on a training weekend in the Alps.

Ever the optimist, I’m trying to look at this as an opportunity – perhaps tackle training from a new perspective, etc. If anything, an affinity for long, grueling races might be an advantage in this situation. One thing I have noticed over the past few weeks, as I’ve worked to navigate this weird absence of training partners and post-run beers with friends, is that this situation has taken me a bit deeper into why I run (or do anything for that matter). 

Under these circumstances, we can look at our “normal” and weed out the things that are not as important to us. For me, it’s brought me even closer to running, and I cherish my time outside running alone more than I have in recent memory. During non-quarantining, (remember that?) it’s easy for exercise to feel like just something else on the to-do on a given day of meetings, social commitments, etc. 

Now, without the pressures of competition and scheduling, I find running to be the release that it started out to be.

I have been guilty so many times of shortening a run and focusing on getting in a “workout” and so I can be on time for my post-lunch meeting instead of maybe just getting up earlier and giving the activity the space it deserves. There are certainly times just a few months ago when I let running become a box to check, a training plan to adhere to so that I could get a certain time at an upcoming race. And while there is nothing wrong with that, there is hopefully something more that motivates us.

Now, without the pressures of competition and scheduling, I find running to be the release that it started out to be. Amid the uncertainty, running has become a blissful constant in a world that is literally changing week to week. It takes me back to high school cross country days when it was pure fun – it was difficult and it demanded attention, but I was out there because I loved it. That love hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s what has kept me running and pushing myself to try longer distances over the 15+ years since I went for my first jaunt in the woods. But in the middle of general life things, that spark was dimmed (just a little). Now that we’ve been forced to clear out so much of our social and professional lives, that spark is flaring right back up.

We have been under a 2km radius restriction since the last week of March. At first, the increased restriction felt like a death sentence. Up until this measure, I had a pretty good thing going for the first few weeks of quarantine doing longer out and back runs and longer cycles in the Wicklow mountains, just outside of Dublin. It felt like I was keeping socially distant. Now, I was basically relegated to my neighborhood.

Quarantine Running in Dublin
County Wicklow – hilly roads and winding trails just outside of the city.

In fairness, I’ve always loved this part of town I call home. My apartment is near the embassies in an old Georgian area of Dublin. The stately homes and leafy streets, not to mention the impressive hedge game and proximity to the beach, make it idyllic. I figured that this at least gave me an opportunity to get creative with my routes and maybe explore a few of the local roads less traveled.

If I’m being honest, I was just trying to psyche myself up about staying close to home. I had a longer run to do the weekend when the restrictions were announced and the prospect of getting in 13-miles on the side streets and cul-de-sacs was a bit daunting.

Fast forward a week into “quarantine running” and I have fallen in love all over again with my neighborhood.

Fast forward a few weeks (reader, I have lost count) into “quarantine running” and I have fallen in love all over again with my neighborhood. I’ve developed an appreciation for the uncrowded avenues I’ve bypassed for most of my time here. And honestly a 2km radius is plenty of room to get in some real distance – shout out to all of the math teachers who said geometry would come in handy someday. I’ve started to appreciate my surroundings with a Joycean eye to detail – the hedge growth on the seafront cottages or the stone fences covered in ivy a block farther inland. I’ve come to know the tired Land Rovers and creaky steel bicycles at each house and have assigned personalities to their owners based on the color of their front door or the kinds of flowers they use in their landscaping.

Quarantine Running in Dublin
Georgian houses a few blocks from the beach.

I’ve become familiar with the exact distance of a given street to the tenth of a mile. This invariably brings me back to my high school running days when practice consisted of neighborhood runs around the school and were named for the streets they included. We had the Hockey-Millenium Drive run, or the Aaronson Road run (5.4 and 6.3, respectively). It’s comforting to have distance on auto-pilot, and I’ve rediscovered that feeling here.

Sure that race this summer is canceled, but was that the reason you started doing this in the first place? Hell no. 

Besides the general disruptions to our routines, these circumstances have forced us to slow down or pivot our focus, and in many ways, sit with ourselves – a prospect that can be as scary as the pandemic itself. It can feel like running in circles. Without the distraction of social events, or the opportunities to travel and fill our days with “the next thing”, we have to confront all the uncomfortable weirdness that’s been there all along – and work through being discontent or anxious while being patient with the way things are right now. Sure that race this summer is canceled, but was that the reason you started doing this in the first place? Hell no. I think that no matter your situation, we will emerge from this stronger. It might feel like an ultramarathon to get there, but there will be an end to this, so here’s to making the best of it, and doing our best to support each other along the way.

 

About Laura DeBenedetto

Laura DeBenedettoA US East Coaster through and through, Laura now lives in Dublin – another East Coast – and is traveling every chance she gets. She’s an endurance athlete, lover of books, and has recently picked up golf (sort of). When not traveling or working, you’re likely to find her hanging out with her beloved Maine Coon, Henry or trying to figure out who keeps stealing her copies of The New Yorker from the mail room.

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