It has undoubtedly been the strangest two years most of us have ever known, and with recurring lockdowns, many of the things we took for granted were denied to us. But throughout all the restrictions, exercising outside was a constant, and for this reason, many people either continued or began running, cycling, swimming, walking and more in the great outdoors.
This time last year, we thought Covid-19 was coming to an end. Now we’re not so sure, but as we head into 2022 we can take comfort in the fact that whether or not another lockdown occurs, and regardless of how tight our purse strings are, there are still plenty of ways in which we can exercise our bodies and allow our minds some respite from it all.
Paul Dunphy lives in Stoneybatter in Dublin 7 with his partner, Steve, and their adopted dog, Gabby. The social media consultant started cycling 12 years ago and says he cannot imagine his life without it as it adds a positive note to each day. “Cycling is such a boon to my health, both physically and mentally, and I look forward to it every day. It’s when I listen to music and podcasts and sing loudly – usually to Cher, Madonna, Kylie and AC/DC – as I cycle by the deer in the park. It’s also superb for clearing my head, and I instantly feel uplifted once I start off. I also get lots of ideas for social media clients and the activity is great for planning too.
“The only negatives to watch out for are people who are not considerate of cyclists – and also insects, as once or twice I got slapped in the face by flying bees in the summer.
“In these crazy times we live in, I think it’s vital to have an outlet where you can turn off the news bulletins which bombard us every day and take a break, even for a short while. You’ll feel the better for it in so many ways. So I would recommend getting a bicycle that suits and giving cycling a try.”
Caroline Cunningham, authentic path coach and author, lives in Carlow and says her daily life is improved by getting out and about in nature and walking through the local countryside. “There have been times in my life when my spirit was so low that I felt I couldn’t lift my body to walk – but thankfully those days are over, and walking has been instrumental in that.
“So my walks are important for both my mental wellbeing and my physical health, and I walk wherever I can, even if it is just around the garden. Luckily, I now live near Carlow town park and the river, so there are a few routes I can do, which allows me a bit of variety. I also love walking on a beach or in the woods as the energy from nature does wonders for my mood and I feel more focused afterwards.
“I use walking for meditation and to feel alive, and it is an opportunity to reset my batteries and start over with new determination and focus. I vary my walking style and speed to get different results and use a variety of apps for my fitness.
“So for example, I have Google Fit, which shows a map of my route, keeps track of my heart points [effort] and shows my weekly goals compared with the WHO recommended goals for adults. I also really like the Nike Run Club app, which can be used for walking or running. It clocks up all your activity and keeps you company by calling out your average pace and distance covered. There are also some recorded coach sessions for training.
“I work with professionals and business owners to help them to achieve their goals by improving and maintaining their focus, and walking is on my list of strategies – because despite it being a freely accessible thing which able-bodied people can do, many struggle to maintain a routine of physical exercise. This is because there are so many pressures and demands for our attention, so care of the self gets put off – then when burnout happens, you are forced to stop. That happened to me in 1999, so nowadays I take better care of myself, and walking is one of the ways I do this.”
Raymond Murphy from Cork is a keen but novice runner, having taken to the streets during the first lockdown. He says that although he won’t be participating in a marathon any time soon, he is keeping fit, both mentally and physically. “I have always been too busy with work (as an accountant) to do much exercise, but when I found myself working from home last year, I knew I needed an outlet to clear my head and get out of the house.
“I wouldn’t have been the fittest guy in the world, but I thought I would put on my rarely-used trainers and see how I got on with jogging. The first few times I did it, were awful and I did more walking than running and I was glad that my house is quite rural as there weren’t too many spectators. But as time went on, I increased the number of days I went out and went from running for one minute at a time, little by little until I was able to run for 30 minutes by the beginning of this year.
“I’m still not the world’s fastest runner, but now I actually enjoy it and try to run at least three days a week. At this stage, I can’t imagine my life without it.”
“Beaufort is a big parish with even bigger mountains – MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and I live just 10-minutes-drive away from the Carrauntoohil car park, so the reeks are the backdrop to all the walks I take, both along the public roads and the occasional trot into the reeks – and if I want sea air, I go walking on Rossbeigh beach, which is a 20-minute drive from home. Cycling is another exercise I enjoy, and again, I really don’t have to leave Beaufort as the roads are quiet and the scenery spectacular. Occasionally, I don the backpack and cycle to Killorglin town for groceries, as it’s my way of reducing my carbon footprint and toning my thighs.
“My sister is a huge wild swimmer and swims all year round in the sea. So after a pretty warm summer, along with Covid travel restrictions and my sister’s encouragement, I swapped the Mediterranean for (swimming in) Rossbeigh and Cromane this summer and even the autumn. In all, I try to exercise two to three times a week and will alternate the exercises if the weather allows.
“I think it’s okay to set minimum targets and work upwards towards a final goal, but it’s also okay not to have a target – as while it is good to have a challenge, enjoyment should be key.”
Seán Mac Gabhann is an assistant lecturer in Sligo IT. He is originally from Dublin, and is in the process of moving west with his partner, Niamh. Having enjoyed snorkelling and scuba diving for many years, he founded Snorkelling Ireland (a community-based site to help grow the sport) in 2020 and says the activity is a great way to get fit and feel energised at the same time.
“I started snorkelling a long time ago as I have never lived too far from the sea and I dabbled with scuba diving some years back but didn’t take it up seriously until 2018, when I started diving with Triton diving, under the PADI system. Typically I would dive two to three times a week, including pool training sessions in St Columba’s College and sea training sessions at the weekend, normally out of Sandycove, Dún Laoghaire. I do travel around the country a bit, mostly shore diving, but there are some great dive centres on Ireland’s west coast to visit, which I do whenever I can.
“There is only one word for how it makes me feel and that is invigorated. I am one of these very strange people who never really feels the cold, so during winter the cold water freshens my mind and makes me feel alive.
“But there are two things which cause problems for divers and snorkellers in Ireland. Firstly the unpredictable weather can cause unpredictable currents and, secondly, the poor visibility. For example, the east coast of Ireland is mostly silty, so if the wind kicks up or if a swell appears the water can turn very mucky.
“Despite these issues, I would encourage anyone who is thinking about it to just go snorkelling. Don’t think about it – just do it. It will open up another world which is right on your doorstep, and if you are unsure, contact your local dive school or snorkelling club as they will help you get started.”