At the outset of the Covid-19 lockdown, imposed peremptorily on 23rd March, the whole UK population was required to stay indoors and only leave the house “if absolutely essential”. Within this regime one form of daily exercise outdoors was permitted, but only performed solo or alongside a member of the same household. 

How long each day? There was never any precise stipulation. Michael Gove told BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that one hour would be considered “reasonable”, but added that “it depends on each individual’s fitness. I would have thought that, for most, a walk of up to an hour, or a run of 30 minutes, or a cycle ride between that, depending on their level of fitness, is appropriate.” Which begged the interesting question – not pursued by Mr Marr – whether fitter people should exercise more or less. If it takes a club athlete 20 minutes to run three miles but a wheezing walker an hour and a half to walk it, whose form of exercise was more acceptable?

PICTURE: Nathan Cowley/Pexels

For the runners of two local clubs, Hastings Athletics Club (HAC) and Hastings Runners, the lockdown meant an end to group sessions of any kind – but not to competition. The wonders of smart tech can take the measure of anything; where there’s measurement, there’s comparison; and competitive people soon turn comparison into contest. So, while in April the sporting
body England Athletics, following government guidelines, suspended all scheduled competition until at least 30th June, the Hastings clubs have been coming up with their own.

At the weekend of 16th and 17th May the two clubs jointly set up a three mile challenge: any route of that distance, any time of either day (but preferably “quiet”) – the only stipulation being to run it solo with strict adherence to social distancing, keeping clear of other people sharing the space. Outcomes were to be recorded on digital apparatus – see side column – and uploaded on a central website managed by HAC secretary Katie Arnold.

From 62 runners, overall male winner was Jeff Pyrah, female was Grace Baker – but times were adjusted for age levels, and Finlay Goodman (under-15) and Susan Rae (V60) were thereby elevated to the top of the virtual podium. The Runners club came out male team winners, HAC dominated the female lists.

At the weekend of 13th/14th June a similar challenge was contested over one mile between HAC and Eastbourne Rovers, More than 50 runners competed, ranging in age from 8 to 65. Winners were Jonah Davies (HAC) with a time of 4 minutes 31 seconds – there  were seven other sub 5-minute runs – and, again, Grace Baker in 5:16. HAC won both team honours.

On 4th/5th July HAC took on Lewes Athletics Club, this time with 125 enlisting from the two clubs together. Winner was Max Thomas of HAC with an impressive 4:15 time. Grace Baker improved her time to 5:03, but came second to Lizzie Keep of Lewes, who recorded 4:58. Early results showed HAC winning the male team event, but they were eventually pipped by their cross-Downs counterparts, though the Hastings female team triumphed again.

In the meantime Hastings Runners have been promoting their team ethic by forming small mixed sex groups to compete in what’s known as an Ekiden relay, based on a Japanese stagecoach tradition in which long distances were covered with a series of horses. As with the inter-club challenges, each runner chooses his/her course of stipulated length and loads the individual result. The combined team time is then aggregated to establish the winner. In the most recently reported contest, eight runners from each group – five male, three female – competed in eight stages of 2 km each.

The aggressive nature of the competition may be inferred from the team names – Dan’s Destroyers, Darren’s Dynamos, Matt’s Marauders and Finlay’s Flyers. For the record, Destroyers won this time round, with a two minute overall lead ahead of Dynamos. Star junior Finlay Goodman clocked the fastest individual time of 6:39. 


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