FOR two decades, runners from the Wee County Harriers have put their best foot forward across the heart of Clackmannanshire. 

It was a considerable blow, then, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in the spring, forcing the club’s near 300 members to find new ways to get their running fix. 

Gone were their distinctive colours from the streets of Clacks, with young and old turning to virtual challenges to stay connected.

Sandy Dunn, a founding member of the Harriers, was there every step of the way, and while he admits it has been a “challenge”, he believes the club’s ethos saw them through the darker days before the sport’s return last month. 

“We are a small club with a big heart,” Dunn, 64, told Advertiser Sport. “Covid-19 had a massive impact this season but we are doing our best to steer the club through it.” 

Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser: Sam Scobie, Ruaraidh Elder, Dawn Henderson, Eilidh Eadington and Marvin MaxwellSam Scobie, Ruaraidh Elder, Dawn Henderson, Eilidh Eadington and Marvin Maxwell

When the starter pistol finally did go at the start of August to signal a return to athletics, they were quickest off the mark, back on the track before anyone else in Clacks and, Dunn believes, across Scotland. 

READ MORE: Central AC youngsters enjoy training return at Alloa's Lornshill Academy

“During Covid, we took the time to engage our members with virtual training events and challenges,” Dunn, who is also on the committee, said. “For the juniors, there were daily quizzes and club competitions. 

“The online fitness classes were delivered by Elspeth Kirkpatrick and were a huge success. We are so lucky to have coaches of this calibre. 

“We were the first in the area to relaunch training facilities at the start of August and so far operations have run fairly smoothly due to the guidelines and measures we have put in place.” 

Despite the challenges of Covid-19 and the impact on daily life, coaches from the club proved, as Dunn says, Wee County Harriers is “more than a running club”. 

They voluntarily gave up their time to help Active Schools at their Alloa hub, delivering lessons to children from across Clacks. 

It put the club in good stead when they finally did return to training with members well placed to adapt to running life in the new normal. 

“Being a running club, it’s a bit easier than, say, football,” Dunn continued. “We still have to use handwash, disinfect anything we do come into contact with, and keep a register. 

“Our juniors have started back at Lornshill Academy on a Monday night. We had a couple of trial sessions with risk assessments in place. Each junior was given a cone with their name, when they turned up they didn’t physically contact the register. Then that cone goes down to the assembly area where they have a space of roughly two metres around the cone. 

“All their equipment stays there.

“If it’s a running-based night, they break into three groups and the numbers comply with the current guidelines. We create bubbles on the park, much like people do at football or rugby.

“If we go about it in the right way, we know it is safe and the kids will get used to it. We are as safe as we can be.”

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Unlike friendly ‘rivals’ Central AC, Harriers’ motto very much puts a love of running and good times ahead of medals and individual glory. 

This has never been truer with thousands across the country picking up the sport during lockdown. Not all will win gold for Team GB in Tokyo next year, but everyone is welcome at Harriers. 

For Dunn, it’s the reason he has been doing it for 21 years, and he is already looking forward to helping young and old discover their own love for running.  

“We have had a lot of great feedback from the parents,” he said. “The kids are smiling and full of energy and the adults were rushing to get back.

“What is really great about our club is that we don’t look for successes, we look for people to come along and have fun.

“You see people going through the early running stage and start to enjoy it and you see them go through the physical change into an athlete. 

“It’s absolutely fantastic.”

Alison Mackie, Active Schools manager, worked closely with Harriers during lockdown, and she said: “The sport of athletics played a very large part of the programme of sport and physical activity that was delivered to children as part of the Education Services Summer Childcare Hub.  

READ MORE: A fine 2017 for Wee County Harriers

“We were delighted by the support that both Central Athletics and Wee County Harriers gave over this period and a huge thank you to the coaches and volunteers from Wee County Harriers who delivered weekly sessions in the Alloa hub. 

“The wider Sport Development team have been involved in providing online content thought the  Active Clacks Twitter and YouTube channel along with supporting weekly live classes on the Get Active Sauchie Facebook Page supported by Wee County Harriers Athletics Coach Elspeth Kirkpatrick.

“This has allowed them to reach a wider audience.”