You just can't lockdown enthusiasm
Runners, race organisers and governing bodies are all finding ways of coping with coronavirus restrictions, while trying to maintain health, fitness and perspective at this challenging time. We drop in on one of the nation's top endurance clubs, Tonbridge AC, as coaches and athletes try to keep their enthusiasm high in the absence of any 'real' competition.
Tonbridge AC, founded in 1947, has around 900 members aged 6 to over 70 years. The club was started by two local policemen – Tom Jones and Norman Fowler. Both were sprinters of some note and probably never lost a 'collar' in a chase!
The club has developed a steady stream of international athletes and in recent years senior men's teams have won the National Cross Country Relay; National 12-stage Road Relay and are the current English National Cross Country champions. This success has been underpinned by steady progression through the age groups and the senior women are beginning to put together a formidable squad, having won the 2018 National XC Relay.
Tonbridge were quick to embrace the high level virtual competition offered by race organisers and in last month's Virtual National Road Relay both men's and women's teams finished in bronze medal positions – a club best female performance if only it had been for real! Lucy Reid led the women's times in the VNRR with a 5K split of 16:19 for a virtual gold medal.
It seems that regular, supportive communication from senior coaches like Mark Hookway helps keep spirits high in the Tonbridge camp. In fact, Mark has noted some positives coming from the period of isolation, as he explains: “I do think some distance runners are benefiting from not having the stress of work, are sleeping better and may be eating better. Add these aspects to actually doing more training and having the time to do rehab work, some are building some real consistency”.
The club also holds in-house virtual run challenges for some of the more mature (veteran) runners. Nichola Evans devises these fiendish weekly events and the results are consolidated in an overall leader board. It is a sign of the times that seven 'races' have already been held and it looks like another seven might be needed – at least – before we are out of the woods.
There was a very different look and feel to the Tonbridge School Sports Centre when it became a drive-through NHS Assessment Centre early in the coronavirus pandemic. This community support facility helps to focus minds on the bigger picture and reminds athletes just how vital it is to follow the latest Government and NHS England advice to stay safe.
It will be interesting to see how well athletes, coaches and club officials have managed during this long period of isolation and whether there will be an influx of new members, as so many people seem to have discovered the health benefits of running in our beautiful countryside.
Images courtesy Tonbridge AC (pictured below with the National XC trophy 2020)