Scottish’s Social Experiment

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Wellington Scottish have devised an innovative Scottish Social Distance Running Challenge comprising several elements. Steve Landells spoke to Walter Somerville at the club to find out more.

As one of New Zealand’s largest and most forward-thinking clubs, Wellington Scottish has never been afraid to think outside the box in its pursuit of smart solutions.  So it was little surprise when the club adapted quickly to the rapidly evolving circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, by organising a series of virtual races and challenges to ensure its members felt connected during lockdown.

Leading the project is club member and university researcher Walter Somerville, who says Wellington Scottish reacted with speed and agility to the ongoing crisis.

“Our members are a part of the club principally to race and hang out with their club-mates and friends,” explains Walter, 32, who joined Wellington Scottish in 2019. “But following the decision to go into full lockdown all this falls away and the club loses some relevance. We need something to replace that which allowed our members to stay connected. I remember we first had discussions on how to keep people motivated and connected following the cancellation of races even before alert levels were mentioned.”

A group of five to ten club members, including Walter, came together to devise the ‘Scottish Social Distance Challenge’ designed to connect runners of all ages and standards during lockdown. Walter and his team broadly put together four different types of challenge to maintain motivation during these difficult times led by the monthly challenge, which included a hill-climbing challenge via Strava and completing a triathlon, although as the club stress “keep the swim safe; splashing your legs in the sea is enough”.

While the more serious runners engaged in the monthly challenges, the fortnightly challenges, which have included running every street near your home termed “Heat Mapping” and completing three loops of a triangle, have been a little less serious but nonetheless devised with the aim of maintaining consistency and ticking off goals. For those who are particular busy, Walter and the club have set a series of basic two-minute challenges from tricep dips to foam rolling challenges while the club has not neglected its younger members by also organising some fun challenges.

“We’ve done some things that are a little more whimsical, like to draw some Strava art with a smiley face or spot as many window bears as possible during a 30 minute run.”

To offer further motivation the club offers points and bonus points for completing the various tasks with the goal of maintaining motivation. Walter and the club have been pleased with the feedback shared by club members to the challenge, although Walter is very keen to stress the importance of abiding by government restrictions.

“We are very conscious of maintaining the physical distancing and for all our athletes to stay local,” he says. “Personally, I’m a huge trail running fan but we’ve noticed during lockdown the trails have proved very popular with large numbers, so because keeping two metres apart on narrow trails is not easy we’ve not proposed any trail challenges.”

The club intend to continue with the challenge until at least the end of the month and Walter insists the project has been a success.

“We are pretty proud that the challenge has worked out very well,” he says. “The challenge was to be creative and to engage club members and I think we’ve achieved that.”