By Owen Leonard
Once upon a time, in the pre-coronavirus era, budding runner Lachie Moorhouse would look forward to training on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
It was an opportunity to test his craft against fellow runners, Olympians among them, take in coaching advice and, perhaps what he now yearns for most, share a laugh with his teammates.
An unaccompanied activity for many, running’s coronavirus effects would appear minor compared to that of the impact which other sports now face.
Indeed, it could even be argued that a large portion of usual gym-goers, footballers, and other sportspeople have instead turned to running for their fitness fix.
But at the competitive level, running’s social element is being sorely missed and, according to Moorhouse, should not be discounted.
“I know a lot of people view running as an individual sport, but you can’t really grasp the team component until you’ve experienced it,” he says.
“It’s just like footy training I guess, where you rock up and you’ve got your coach and your teammates, and you all work together to get better and have a bit of a laugh.
“There isn’t much fun about doing five 1600-metre runs off two minutes rest on your own, and a two-hour-long run on a cold Sunday morning is pretty lonely now.
“That’s probably the element I’m missing the most, that social component.”
And as if summoning the motivation for a two-hour run without rest on a Sunday morning wasn’t difficult enough before the world entered a lockdown, Moorhouse indicates the absence of teammates is proving a notable challenge.
“It is hard trying to do it all on your own day-in-day-out and I find even the smallest factors can put me off like the weather or if I’m not feeling 100 per cent,” the 20-year-old says.
“Usually there’s no way those things would stop me from training.”
Perhaps the most significant issue faced by competitive runners now though is that there is no competition.
Before the pandemic struck, Moorhouse had been pencilled in for the Athletics Victoria Cross-Country Series and the Australian National Athletics Championships, where Olympic nomination trials take place.
Indeed, how one maintains competitiveness in the absence of competition is an intriguing point in itself.
As Moorhouse puts it: “No one runs to train fast, they all run to race fast.”
It’s a challenge in which runners and coaches alike have turned to technology in an effort to alleviate the problem.
“My coach has setup some virtual five-kilometre courses on the Strava running app, where you go and run them on your own and then there’s a leaderboard of everyone’s times,” explains Moorhouse.
“It’s not the same but it keeps it competitive, which is good.”
With even ultra-competitive, aspiring athletes finding it difficult to muster motivation, one could be forgiven in struggling to exercise without the availability of gyms, group training, or even basic equipment.
And personal trainer David Bartlett, who runs Beaumaris gym Body Focus and has also coached football at both junior and senior level, suggests going back to basics in order to stimulate a thirst for activity.
“If you’re struggling for a basic form of exercise, probably the best thing is to step your goals right back,” he says.
“Start with a walk. That gives you a bit of a base to work from, which is very basic, but it’s a beginning base.
“You go for a walk, you come home, and all of a sudden you’re reinforced with that idea that ‘exercise is a good thing and it’s good for my mind’.”
Bartlett also indicates that isolated exercise should be viewed as a step-by-step process, rather than setting lofty goals as the health pandemic continues to limit exercise options.
“We don’t come home and think I’m going to go from walking for 30 minutes to bench pressing 100kg, (but) it gives you that platform to the look for the next step,” he explains.
“Just set small goals.”
While the fitness industry’s tunnel remains murky, Bartlett sees light at the end of it, and believes the prolonged lack in exercise opportunity will eventually lead to a widely motivated community once government restrictions are eased.
“I think people, definitely, will come out more motivated,” he said.
And with many having to forgo usual modes of exercise, Bartlett predicts an increase in appetite for a wider range of training.
“There’s so many different types of fitness,” he explains.
“There’s weight fit, there’s running fit, there’s football fit, I think people will come out with a greater appreciation for different modalities associated with training.”
While it has proved a difficult time for the industry, with some personal trainers resorting to video calling technology such as Zoom in efforts to continue in offering fitness sessions for clients, Bartlett also forecasts growth in those seeking advice in newly found forms of exercise.
“They’ll probably come out looking for a bit of advice,” Bartlett predicts.
“Someone who is usually only interested in lifting weights might have gone out and picked up the running bug.
“Now, there’s a growing possibility they’ll want to learn how to run properly, or they’ll want to run fast, or they’ll want to adapt it with some group-based training or some weights-based training.
“The potential for people to come out with goals that want to be set and then want those goals to be achieved will be huge.”
While athletes continue to solely train for races, games, and matches which still appear far from any set return date, with the wider public starved of a variety in exercise coaching and equipment, evoking motivation appears as difficult as ever.
But it’s that same starvation which could, conversely, lead to an insatiable exercise hunger once coaches, group training, and equipment alike become available again.
And in the post-coronavirus era, Lachie Moorhouse might look forward to those Tuesday and Thursday nights more than ever before.