'The freedom to run' - Limerick's Ann McPhail

Ann McPhail


Ann McPhail



'The freedom to run' - Limerick's Ann McPhail

As someone who enjoys running, I have always been in awe of the abilities of those who participate in ‘free running’. Free runners are those who choose to convey expression by interacting with various obstacles and environment.

Flexibility and creativity are evident in observing free running when free runners consider how best to negotiate man-made obstacles / the urban landscape.

Flexibility (in terms of what the body can do) and creativity (in terms of how to most effectively negotiate an obstacle) are evident when you watch free runners jump from one roof building to another, scale parallel walls moving from one wall to the other, complete a summersault on a tree stump, traverse from a tree trunk to a wall or run up a wall before executing a back-flip.

There is also an inner strength where free runners mentally prepare for the action to be completed with a view to not only completing a successful execution but also in considering improvements.

The element of flexibility and creativity, and inner strength strike a chord with my running practices during COVID-19.

My dealings with flexibility and creativity during COVID-19 have been less dramatic!

Flexibility and creativity have come in to play when considering what type of running session one can do given the directive to exercise within a specific radius from the house.

In choosing to do a longer run do I run numerous times around the same route to make up the mileage?

Or do I choose different points to run from the house to, returning each time to the house before running to another point?

An apparent increase in people being physically active during the pandemic have, in some instances, resulted in runners making the decision to avoid such ‘obstacles’ by running either early or late in the day.

While there may have been an initial disappointment from runners on the restrictions to how far one could exercise from their home, this disappointment was short-lived once runners began to find flexible and creative ways in which to maintain involvement in running.

As regards inner strength, I have found it difficult to prepare for training sessions when you are reliant on doing such sessions on your own, with no fellow runners to spur you on as you look to push your body to near maximum for specific periods of time.

I have found that the biggest challenge is starting a session after the warm-up.

Once started, the session, in a sense, takes care of itself. The numerous opportunities for runners to join virtual running groups and ideas shared through social media on how to recreate specific running experiences, e.g., Parkrun, have only heightened the possibilities for runners and running.

Indeed, the inner strength of some runners has, I would suggest, increased as they set out to complete specific challenges, e.g., running a half marathon at 5.30am around Limerick City (keeping within the 5k radius restriction) or running 10 marathons in 10 days in aid of raising money for charities.

We are all free to run. The pandemic has heightened our ability to consider the flexibility and creativity around running.

It has also encouraged us to develop an inner strength that allows us to appreciate the health and wellbeing aspects of running (e.g., stress relief) rather than being solely reliant on running as a means of fitness.

Ann MacPhail is a Professor at the University of Limerick. Ann is a former Scottish and British international athlete and is a current member of Dooneen AC.