Coronavirus has brought changes

Coronavirus has brought changes

20 May 2020

Top marathon runner Eoghan Totten, from Newcastle AC, shares his experiences of coping with 

the Covid-19 lockdown during the past few weeks


2020 started off on a massive high for me. As part of the Marathon Potential 2024 cohort, I attended a two week training camp near Torre-Vieja, Spain, organised jointly by Athletics Northern Ireland and Athletics Ireland.

I had the honour of going toe-to-toe with then NI marathon record holder, Paul Pollock, on the track.

I also had the opportunity to spend time with Paul off-track,  alongside Kevin Seaward, learning from two powerhouses of Irish marathon running and building on the advice we received from Stephen Scullion, in Belfast in early December.

Most importantly, I made lasting friendships with my fellow Marathon Potential 2024 athletes. The sense of community allowed me to really embrace the project.

Setting a goal of putting two of us on the start line of the 2024 Paris Olympics is very ambitious. As a younger athlete, I always felt like an underdog.

This feeling, which I once perceived as a negative, has become one of my chief strengths. The goal of becoming an Olympian, which I have chased — still chasing — from an early age, has, at times seemed unattainable.

However, as time has passed, I have grown to love the chase. I look forward to the next stage on this journey, in the company of the Marathon Potential 2024 athletes and support staff, under the stewardship of my coach and mentor of 12 years, Richard Rodgers, and the band of local training partners.

Our way of life has changed dramatically in the space of four months due to COVID-19. I remember reading the news in January and having the unnerving feeling that it would not be the last time that I would do so.

When I recorded a 64:58 personal best over the half marathon in Barcelona in mid-February, the virus was relatively undocumented in Europe. By mid March, I understood that I would not be racing for a long time.

My biggest — and somewhat selfish — fear was that there would be a blanket ban on exercise. Nonetheless, the sanctions under which we are all living have forced me to reconsider the spirit in which I run.

To those friends and family in the health service, who have been tackling the virus over the past six weeks, I am amazed beyond words. Thank you for what you are doing.

As a PhD student I do not consider myself a key worker. I decided that I would follow lockdown protocol as strictly as possible to do my part. Double runs — two runs a day — have always been a staple part of my training, allowing me to hit the high mileage required to prepare for the marathon.

Completing the same mileage across the week off one daily training session was initially challenging. However, I eventually adapted after two weeks of attrition. In the process, I learned that I benefit from the extra recovery time between runs. This pleasant surprise helped me come to terms with what seems like a more or less empty race calendar in 2020.

Athletes are creatures of habit. We are conditioned to race on a monthly or two-monthly basis. Having the options restricted has enabled me to focus on the process of training without looking too far ahead. It has reminded me that, despite thriving off pushing to my limits in races, I love the journey, equally as much.

Yes, it is all about achieving in races, but also, to get there a long time is spent training — 12 years and counting. So we have to love the training too.  A consequence of this has been that I have begun to pay attention to the finer details in training. 

When doing a hard workout, I set high standards for each and every repetition, be it focusing on my running form, my cadence or my composure in a strong headwind. I have been trying out new drills and core routines to break up the days. 

Beyond training itself, I have found myself looking after my kit better than I may have done in the past. This, strangely enough, has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my day.

Given the recent stint of unusually sunny and warmer April weather, I have been leaving my shoes to dry in the sun after runs.  A friend recently told me that this is a standard practice in Japan, harnessing the heat of the sun to kill off microbes.

It has become a bit of a ritual for me. My shoes fairly pound the roads, so I guess they deserve some respect for what they allow me to do. Seeing them propped against the wall lifts my spirits. 

I can understand that many of you will be disappointed not to have run the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon, but your chance to do so will come around again in September or the future.

Anyone who is brave enough to step on the start line of a marathon is a special type of person, irrespective of fitness.

More so those who run to raise money for a cause. It takes courage to do this. Bank that courage and build on it over the coming months. It is directly transferable to enduring the current crisis.

I remember passing the 21-mile mark in the 2019 Dublin Marathon. I was in a world of pain — it’s worth it when you’re on track for 2:16 — when I passed a sign that read ‘What wall?’

I knew then that I would be coming back to this distance time and again. Right now, I have to wait. We all have to wait. Runners are resilient. Focus on whatever training you can do right now and enjoy the journey.