It was two years ago this week when abdominal surgery sent my running world reeling, not to mention my home life, work life and everything else. At the time I was sliced open, I was roughly 2 ½ days from the start time for my first 100K at the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC).
As I wrote at the time, I spent that day pushing my IV cart around the fifth floor of a hospital, instead of exploring the mountains of Virginia.
I learned a lot from that experience. I learned that I could push myself back — probably stronger than before — and finish the race I never had a chance to start.
There are lessons from that time that can be applied now as runners everywhere are dealing with the realities of the coronavirus. Some runners are facing dire consequences of COVID-19 whether they are suffering or a loved one has been stricken. Those cases are not to be dismissed or forgotten, and certainly their realities do not necessarily apply to what I am getting at here.
Since I have fortunately not had to deal with a loved one or myself being diagnosed with COVID-19. So I am aiming to provide context and guidance on how best to deal with a long-term layoff due to races being cancelled for those who are inconvenienced with that situation.
Runners have crossed race after race off their list for this spring, summer and even some in the fall. Others have been forced to take their training inside. And an inspiring group of runners have demonstrated extreme willpower by completing endurance events around their couches, on balconies and on treadmills. (Earlier I wrote about staying motivated during COVID-19.)
This is no telling how long the pandemic will continue, when the anticipated second wave will hit or when races — the non-virtual kind — will return. My surgery only kept me out of races for 3 ½ months but the lessons learned apply to what we are coping with today. Here are my suggestions for getting through this time.
Oftentimes, for convenience, runners do the same routes throughout their training. I know I am guilty of this when it comes to training. It’s easier to do the familiar, especially when faced with the prospect of finishing the workout, getting home and heading to work. While the pandemic has made some areas off-limits, there are opportunities now for many of us working from home to explore new training routes or running them in reverse. Mix it up! Just be safe.
Remember or reinvent your ‘why’
For the majority of us, we did not start our running adventures in the pursuit of shiny medals. Perhaps our initial “why” was to lose weight. Or get in shape. Or chase a bucket-list goal.
In time, we continued on as runners, chasing different goals — PRs, longer distances, Boston Qualifiers, Marathon Maniacs. With races cancelled, those goals have largely been put on hold. And that’s fine because it allows us to reflect on or reframe our “why.”
As I forced myself from my hospital bed to one of my many slow, methodical walks in the hospital, my “why” was clear — to finish UROC one year later, which I did.
This extra time gives us a golden opportunity to dream big and find a challenge that excites us and work towards it. Maybe it’s setting an FKT. Or an audacious PR. Or doing a rim-to-rim-to-rim at the Grand Canyon. Follow the advice of what a well-known runner told me, “Never limit where running can take you.”
I heeded that advice as I flipped through a copy of Ultrarunning Magazine in the hospital. While I knew of Western States, I hadn’t really considered it. But in reading some stories about the historic race, I began to redefine what might be possible in my mind. That’s the first time I recall reframing my thoughts from “never” to “try it.”
The first big test was finishing the 100K at UROC. And once I did, I immediately began to search for and plan for my Western States qualifiers. In November of last year, almost exactly 18 months after surgery, I completed my first 100-mile race at Rio Del Lago and earned my first qualifier for Western.
Pick a new challenge
While races are cancelled, though there are glimmers of hope in some states that are beginning to re-open, there are other options. I tried my first Fastest Known Time and had a blast trying and achieving something new.
Meanwhile, virtual races are popping up. While those lack the side-by-side camaraderie at in-person races, the running community does come together for virtual races via social media. Kudos to the race directors for creating these opportunities.
You might find yourself in a place where you aren’t able to dream big at this point, or have not been inspired by a new challenge. And that’s OK.
We know that, no matter what else is going on in the world, the simple act of running does so much for us. It improves our fitness. It provides mental clarity. It helps shape our bigger purposes. Just getting out and running can do so much for us.
For those struggling with the uncertainties of the pandemic, there is so much to be gained from even the shortest of runs. This is a time to not worry about mileage, speedwork, pace or anything else. Run for the simple pleasure. Consider leaving your watch at home.
Go for a run. Find joy. Repeat.