Eamonn Coghlan: Runners must avoid footpath disputes

The Chairman has spoken.
Eamonn Coghlan: Runners must avoid footpath disputes

GLORY DAY: Eamonn Coghlan raises his arms in the air as he wins the 5000 metres final during the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki. Picture: Steve Powell/Getty Images
GLORY DAY: Eamonn Coghlan raises his arms in the air as he wins the 5000 metres final during the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki. Picture: Steve Powell/Getty Images

The Chairman has spoken.

Eamonn Coghlan, world champion at 5,000 metres, star at multiple Olympic Games, one of the all-time icons of indoor athletics, has weighed in on one of the most pressing issues of the current lockdown.

Coghlan says the onus is on joggers and runners to be courteous towards others on the footpaths and roads of Ireland — to “move wide and not to try to intimidate people by running at them and expecting them to move out of the way”.

“In these trying times, which we’ve never faced before, everybody needs to be very conscientious,” says Coghlan.

“When it comes to joggers and runners they cannot be selfish.

“When you look at an athlete’s career, from the highest level on down, everyone has a focus when they run — some are going at a slow pace, some at a fast pace, some at a pace they consider fast, put it that way.

“But they all have to be conscientious about their positioning at this trying time. Rather than thinking you’re the authority because you’re out doing your run, you’ve got to be aware at least a hundred yards before you meet a family or a couple of people.

“It’s your responsibility as a runner to take control, and the only way you can take control is to move wide and not try to intimidate the people by running at them and expect them to move out of your way.”

Coghlan adds that confrontations between walkers and runners is completely counter-productive for all concerned.

“If you’re going at a good pace and someone steps out suddenly it can be hard to adjust at the last moment, so you must be more aware of moving your positioning much earlier than you would normally.

“It doesn’t take much. If a runner gets annoyed because someone on the footpath is going slowly — he or she has no right to get annoyed. It’s up to him or her to take control and to move wide.

“Remember, if a runner allows a confrontation to develop with a walker cursing and the runner responding, that’s counter-productive for everybody trying to maintain a positive mental attitude in these trying times.

“If you’re trying to intimidate people by running too close to them, they’ll get upset, you’ll get upset, and nobody gets any benefit out of that.”

The fact that traffic is far lighter should make that social distancing easier to achiever, surely?

“That’s true, there is more space now and it’s up to people to take advantage of that space within reason.

“There’s enough space on the road and on the footpath for everyone, it’s there to be used.

“In general, though, I think it’s up to the jogger or the runner to take control of those situations because they need to realise that while they may have been jogging or running in a particular place — which they regard as their own patch — they have to adjust to the fact that other joggers or families are now using the same patch at a slower pace.

“Therefore the responsible jogger or runner will do everything in his or her power to eliminate any interaction within that two-metre distance we’re all trying to observe.”

Coghlan adds that misunderstandings happen easily: “I ride the bike a lot — my hip isn’t up to long runs — and what I find is that the cycle lanes in the Phoenix Park, where I go, can be too busy.

“Often there are walkers in the cycle lanes but I’m not trying to run them down — I give them a whistle at least a hundred yards out just to let them know I’m coming.

“They move, I move and we’re all on our merry way. But sometimes they misunderstand the whistle, which is just a signal — sometimes they think you’re annoyed with them, which you’re not, so you can get someone saying ‘eff off’ when you’re only giving them the heads-up that you’re coming their way.”

That whistle is the equivalent, then, of running track etiquette.

“That’s right, and it’s why I use the whistle rather than shouting ‘track’.

“The protocol, if you’re training on a running track with joggers going at various speeds, is that you shout ‘track’ when you come up behind someone, and they either move to the second or third lane or hop into the infield.

“But right now nobody has that kind of right of way out running on the streets. We have the right to be more courteous, and what that means is that if you’re rolling along at a good clip and there are people ahead of you on the footpath, you don’t shout ‘track’, you ease wide.

“Think of the best athletes in the world, those preparing for the Olympics. They’re doing maintenance work, keeping themselves ticking over. They’re not bursting past people and getting worked up.

“If one of them gets into trouble in a race, if they get boxed in, what do they do? You step back, you move out, you move wide. So what should joggers and runners do? Step back, move out, move wide, and move on.”

The man famous as the Chairman of the Boards due to his successes in indoor racing has one final point to make.

“Remember, you’re not training for the world championships,” says Coghlan. “You’re not preparing for the Olympics. You’re training for your physical and mental health at a very challenging time, to get the endorphins going — and you won’t get that benefit if you’re arguing with walkers or families and then coming home to argue with your own family.

“The people out walking — or running slower than you — are out there for the very same reason as you, to try to stay healthy. So a little bit of understanding goes a long way.”

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