When the first case of COVID hit Australia way back in January 2020, the world, Australia, and I had no idea what this deadly virus entailed. After a couple of months, everything was shut down in March, big events and meets were cancelled, travelling banned, and various uncertainties played against us. For many in the running community, this meant the cancellation of the Australian National Junior championships in March of 2020 and our beloved Saturday favourite, parkruns around Australia and the world. There was a lockdown of schools, workplaces, and retail. Not only did this affect others, fellow team gazelle athlete Dylan Offord, along with the rest of the Year 12 cohort, and I were going through our final years at school, with the HSC coming upon us. This meant we were unable to enjoy some of the last days of our schooling lives and lowered the motivation of many people.
With nowhere to easily go, I found that we were sanctioned in our homes and forced to train with so much ambiguity. This meant that my coach, Bradley Woods, and I did not get to run our usual sessions together, isolated to training by myself or with a local group in the breathtaking inner west. Although it was different from what we had done in the past, I found it not as bad as what I had expected, having the motivation to keep pushing myself. As weeks passed and the entire COVID situation got worse, further restrictions were put in place, and Australia became locked up from the world. This meant that the Olympic committee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games was put under pressure to let the games go ahead or postpone them. This resulted in the cancellation of most of the school cross country season for many of us in Sydney. I found it very disappointing as it would be my last season running in the green and white for Trinity Grammar. Despite this, I completed a solid base phase of sessions consisting of 12x800s with (45-sec rest (I didn't actually do the 45 seconds and instead made it 90 seconds and slowly cutting it down to 60 seconds - apologies Bradley for not informing you, hehe) and 20 x 400s on a 2-minute cycle, which was tough to complete solo, however, it definitely took my mind away from the stresses of Year 12 and the entire COVID pandemic.
Fortunately enough, after 6 weeks of lockdown, Trinity was given the go-ahead to let Year 12 students return to classes. Despite this occurring, no organised training was allowed, and I was still confined to training alone like many of us. As a result, like we normally would around mid-May to June, we began training as if we would during a normal week at school with weekly competitions on the weekend. This consisted of sessions such as 6 x 1k and 400 reps. After a few weeks of completing this phase of training, NSW Athletics and many other organisations around the world began performing and organising virtual 5k runs. I found myself joining in on the action completing a 5k Time Trial around Five Docks famous Timbrell park in a time of 15:34, which at the time was a PB. This definitely brought some satisfaction to me as it displayed the work that was put in over the previous couple of months. As life continued on during the first wave of COVID, the Sunday long run became a fantastic social event for me, meeting up with fellow trinity and ex-team gazelle athletes, Luke Cunningham and Luca Gillard and other NSW athletes, Angus Beer and Kane Shields.
In the final term of school, Team Gazelle Head Coach, Bradley, left Trinity Grammar, which was absolutely a surprise as I was only informed within a couple of weeks of his departure. This was definitely hard and an extremely understandable circumstance to take in, as seeing Bradley almost every day as my coach and mentor was without a doubt crucial in my running. Even with the big man gone and the continued cancellation of many events, other trinity athletes and I were fortuitous enough to compete in three rounds of CAS/GPS cross country competition to cap off the cross country season and life at School. Following this, a couple of weeks later, Trinity again, fortunately, organised two internal track competitions between other athletes in the school, providing something similar to the last CAS athletics competitions. The cancellation of one of the most anticipated events of the year was not to be looked past, as it brought one of the most amazing and breathtaking atmospheres one could experience in their lifetime. During this time, HSC trials were also commencing, and luckily schooling life continued, as usual, allowing myself and other year 12 students to have their final celebrations and farewells.
Succeeding the HSC trials, athletics events began to start up again. However, I took time off from the running scene and decided to focus on my last 2-months of school, studying for the HSC. During this time, both by luck and unluckiness, I suffered an injury, meaning I could not run and use running to clear my head. However, instead, I found that even walking or getting some fresh air substituted for this. Following the HSC, fortunately, the end of year events took place, including the school formal and schoolies. This allowed me to take extra time to regenerate and recover from the last couple of months of study and prepare for the track season ahead. It was great to see some competitions take place. However, there were still not as many as what pre covid life consisted of. After COVID settled down following the Northern beaches outbreak in January, Bradley invited us up to his local wine country of Cessnock for a week training camp. This would have to be one of my highlights for this year, even with the jokes and banter from the Camden local, Dylan, Dubbo special Lachlan Townsend, and don't let me forget about the man of mysteries, Jonathan Meaker. It was a great week to get away from city life and focus on what it's like to be an athlete. Although after having a solid couple of months of training throughout the summer, then a good hit out in the 800, my season was confined to only one competition due to injury. This forced me to miss my last Australian Junior Championships in March after the 5-months of COVID permitting circumstances.
After this came the cross country season, I trained through a base phase and into the competition phase with a few niggles along the way. The second lockdown hit before the NSW XC Championships, resulting in solo or small group training. This was definitely different as I felt like we knew what to expect, having a deeper understanding of the virus. However, I absolutely think everyone underestimated the escalation of the DELTA variant. After about two weeks of being isolated from mates, following the enforcement of the two-person rule, it definitely got to me. Having your mates around all the time and together as a group to me is essential. And although you can meet up with one at least once a day, I believe it is not the same. Fortunately enough, I am not from an LGA of concern (as of today), which enabled me to complete my training and long runs in various locations from Centennial park to Sydney Olympic Park to Pratten Park and the Bay Run. Training through the second wave has definitely been more challenging due to more uncertainty as it lags on.
In summary, from COVID to Bradley fleeing to Cessnock, these couple of years have been distinct from the rest. It has been an eye-opener to another aspect of life, what life could be like in the future, and how running and exercise in general get your mind away from the COVID mess. BTW, if you are looking for a coach, hit up Bradley Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Thomas Virgona
Distance runner for Team Gazelle Running
From Sydney, not outer Sydney like for example, somewhere like Cobbitty
Slower than Jonty in a 200m