Like the famous Belfield track, UCD Athletics Club boasts an unrivalled history and a string of successful Olympians among their alumni. Both the track and the club will look very different by the end of the upcoming academic year, with delayed construction works meaning the scheduled reopening of the track has become, May 2021 and a new crop of athletes arriving to join the club’s more familiar faces as they look to build on last year’s shortened but successful season.
All clubs are understandably concerned about how restrictions will impact the influx of new athletes, however, Ruth Comerford, the Women’s Captain, is hopeful that the non-contact nature of the sport will prove attractive to potential members as a way of safely exercising within current HSE and Athletics Ireland guidelines. “It is inspiring (to see) how many people picked up running during lockdown…We hope people will be eager to continue their running journey by registering with us and becoming part of one of the biggest and most successful sports clubs on UCD campus”. Comerford jokes that members “naturally perform social distancing due to the differences in fitness between all our athletes”, but outside of this, a more rigorous framework of regulations have been agreed upon during the summer “to ensure we provide a safe environment for the return of our sport”. The club will be engaging in measures such as online sign-up forms, smaller training groups, and staggered training start times, all to be overseen by their appointed Covid Compliance Officer.
Competitions have already resumed for some of the club’s members and UCD had a “very strong field of athletes competing on both weekends of the National Championships” which took place in Santry at the end of August. Ad Astra Athlete Darragh McElhinney won the 5000m final with a time of 13:56.00, Ellie Hartnett’s brilliant 4:23.20 in the 1500m was just short of second place in her final, and Stephen Gaffney took gold in the 100m with a time of just 10.63 seconds against a strong wind.
UCD AC’s Gaffney had to implement changes during lockdown and moved sessions from athletics tracks to grass and paths in parks. The reward for the sprinter’s focus and training was the aforementioned gold in the 100m final. “It had been a goal for me for many years and it was all the sweeter with everything going on this summer. It made all the work over lockdown worthwhile.”
Fellow UCD Bear Richael Browne was in the fortunate position of having clubmate and training partner Ellie Hartnett living close by, and was grateful to have people to complete the lockdown miles with “together but far apart”. Browne had to find creative ways of supplementing these road sessions with more forgiving terrains; “I also tried to run on grass as much as possible, which was challenging at times with no parks within my close radius and with the local rugby/ football pitches being closed, leading me to turn to running on golf courses (and quite often away from ground keepers)”.
Amongst other achievements, Browne finished fourth in the 800m at the 2018 intervarsity championships as a first-year, and in doing so qualified for the Celtic International Track and Field against Scotland. Ahead of the new academic year, Browne is looking forward to the return of Tuesday night sessions and encourages incoming athletes to “immerse themselves in the club and get involved in every aspect”.
Both Browne and Gaffney implored incoming students to try developing a “routine” or “plan” early in order to balance training, studying and socialising. Gaffney stressed the importance of “enjoying training” and Browne pitched joining the club as “a great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends”.
ENTs Officer Ruairí Long thinks that it is UCD AC’s diversity which sets it apart, with members from UCD Triathlon and UCD Orienteering interspersed amongst this dedicated group of runners from all backgrounds. “The club caters to all levels and abilities, but all [the] while training at the same time, in the same place and with the same coaches for all athletes. Everyone trains together, doing the sessions at their own pace, which really brings the club closer.”
Although some previously commonplace social staples of the club, such as “(congregating) at our beloved Poolside Café before training” and “using the changing rooms as a place for a catch-up before the challenging Tuesday distance sessions” have to be gone-without, the club counts itself fortunate that athletics has been classified as a low-risk, non-contact sport, so members can compete and train in a similar manner to before.