ALAN O’Shea knows from experience that a race isn’t over until you cross the finish line.
The Bantry runner is one of the most experienced athletes in the county and lessons he has learned on the road also apply to the current war with Covid-19.
O’Shea works as a doctor at the Mercy Urgent Care Centre in Gurranabraher. He’s on the frontline in this pandemic. He knows how dangerous Covid-19 is, that it can kill both young and old, but he also stresses it’s a race we can and will win.
‘Everyone needs to keep following the guidelines. The restrictions won’t last forever. This is not a sprint. It’s more like a marathon. You can be winning the race at 24 miles and think you have won – but the race is 26.2 miles,’ O’Shea points out.
‘You must keep going, you can’t become complacent. The race isn’t over until it is over and it will end sometime. There will be a finish line.’
O’Shea had been gearing up for the Cork City Marathon at the end of May before it was postponed until September 6th – but athletics has taken a backseat for now.
He still goes for his morning run out the Lee Fields, tapered down to five or six miles these days, and that’s important for his body and mind before he goes to work at the Mercy Urgent Care Centre.
‘We see minor injuries, sports injuries, etc., and treat broken bones, sprains, so we are actually quieter than usual as all sports activities are cancelled and, secondly, many people are staying away from hospitals because of Covid-19,’ he points out.
‘We have an open-door policy so anyone can attend without appointment. As a result of Covid-19 we have to be extra cautious and wear extra PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) when examining patients and when doing procedures which are high risk as we in in close contact with patients.’
It’s the likes of his wife, Suzanne, who are the real heroes, O’Shea says. She qualified as a dentist last June but has returned to help out in the ICU as a nurse, treating Covid-19 patients.
In his 17 years as a doctor, he has never seen anything like this health crisis. No-one has. The Bantry man was in Melbourne in 2009 when it was the swine flu capital of the world, but Covid-19 has already over 1.9 million cases worldwide with over 120,000 deaths.
‘The swine flu was widespread in Melbourne back then but Covid-19 is far more devastating,’ O’Shea says.
‘On the other hand I have never seen things happen so quickly in the HSE and the Government to get things done. Suddenly, all the red tape is gone and things are done in record time. Everyone is pulling together and going above and beyond their roles. It is great to see what can be done when everyone pulls together.
‘It must be remembered that for 80 per cent of people Covid-19 will be a mild disease. If we can flatten the curve and keep the ICU admissions down, we can manage this.
‘Irish healthcare workers are among the best in the world and by washing our hands, keeping social distance and staying at home we can all help to manage this crisis.’
It’s no surprise that O’Shea is staying active. He still gets out on the road for a morning run, all within two kilometres of home in Sunday’s Well.
‘A sudden stop at this stage would not be good for me physically and mentally,’ the 39-year-old explains, adding, ‘It’s also great to clear the head and get away from Covid-19 for a while.’
His target has changed though. It was full steam ahead for the Cork City Marathon until that was postponed. Back in 2007 O’Shea, as a 26-year-old tipped for big things, made national headlines when he won his home marathon. It’s an event close to his heart, and the signs were encouraging.
At the St Stephen’s Day Dick Copithorne Memorial four-miler at Belgooly, he won in a time 21 seconds faster than his win of three years ago. O’Shea has been running well this year, training well and is injury free – but perspective is needed, he says.
‘This has changed plans but I’m not too bothered,’ he says.
‘I’m more relaxed about running these days. I’m sure eight years ago I would have been more upset by it. There are more serious things in life at the moment than racing.
‘The plan now is to run Cork in September. I’ve rearranged the training plan a bit. Trying to peak for that will be the aim.’
O’Shea also has another milestone in his sights for September – he will celebrate his 40th birthday.
‘Age is a just a number and I’m still 20 in my head!’ he says.
‘I love running. I eat well, sleep well and love racing so it’s easy to keep motivated. I have two sons, Max (9) and Matthew (8), who keep me going too. It must be the good West Cork genes!’
Turning 40 will open another door for O’Shea.
‘It means I will be eligible to run masters competitions and I intend to compete internationally in these,’ he explains. ‘I will continue to run in local events as I love racing and love meeting the local running community and supporting these events.’
These days, athletics is waiting in the background for later in the year, and O’Shea is playing his part in a more important race right now – and it’s one we will win and we can all play our part.