Roundtable: Running in the Time of Corona

What does running look like for us now, in the age of coronavirus lockdowns, cancelled races, and global uncertainty?

Four Salties share their experiences of what running is like, how it fits into the “new normal” amidst shifting priorities and expectations, and the role running fills for us.

Caraway (Germany)

Still running! The main thing that’s changed from the usual is that sometimes my son comes with me on his bike.

I had been training for the Berlin Marathon, in September, but that’s cancelled now. So now I’m still kinda training for whenever we next get to race, but also very much running for mental health reasons. It’s my only chance to get out of the house.

I’m a nay to virtual races. I feel like they’re a distraction from my actual goals, and I’m not willing to spend the money — but I totally understand why some people are really into them!

My stance on registering for new races right now: no way.

I have my coach (who I originally hired back in February to help me train for Berlin) and we are still working together, so he uploads new training to the VDOTO2 app every few weeks and we talk every Friday. It’s a little weird that we don’t know what we’re actually training for other than, as they say, LIFE, motherfucker. But he’s helping me get strong AF for whenever we do get to race again.  Gyms are obviously closed but I’m strength training at home, mostly with bodyweight. I have the Aaptiv app for workouts.

Angelica (Connecticut)

I’m changing very little about what and how I run. That is, Tuesday has been track day for a long time. It’s still track day. What’s really different is, obviously, that I am not running with other people. I’m a pretty social runner and I really miss my running friends. I’m also working at home with two kids – so I have been using the early morning hours when they are asleep to work instead of to run.

I decided to keep training. My spring season was supposed to be focused on training for the 10K distance. I do not care all that much about my 10K race time – but I am hoping that 10K training improves my marathon time. So most of what I want out of this season is the training effect, rather than the race. That has been very helpful.

I think I’ve had one outright cancellation and two postponements so far. I decided to go with time trials rather than virtual races. What’s the difference? To me, a virtual race implies that someone else is involved somewhere. Maybe I pay a race fee and upload a result or something like that. Perhaps virtual races offer a medal or a t-shirt. So far, that hasn’t appealed to me. But I had a 10 mile race scheduled in early April and I ran a 10 mile time trial that weekend. It was a really tough test of mental fitness! I learned a lot and I intend to do at least one 10K time trial next month. I would very much rather be racing, but this is my plan, at least for now.  I’m having a hard time imagining how a virtual race could create the sense of community you get from a real race. If someone came up with a creative idea on that front, I might try it. I do think race directors are going to get creative and so are runners.

As far as registering for upcoming races – no way. Why do it? I have two races postponed until fall. My fall goal race – Wineglass Marathon – might or might not happen, who knows. I am not spending more money until the situation is more stable. Exception – I’ll register for Boston 2021 in September if registration is looking normal.

The depth of my commitment [to running] has been reinforced perhaps mostly to me. I realized that if I had to, I would run in our yard. I would run on my treadmill. But I would keep running. Those would have been hard things if they had happened. But I am sure what my response would have been. A good friend said to me when the quarantine started and the races vanished, “You are 2/3 of the way through your 10K training cycle. What can you get out of the remaining 1/3 under these conditions?” That gave me a sort of guideline to follow that has been very helpful. I want to figure out how good I can be. The conditions have changed, but my question has not.

Sassafras (Kentucky)

I let my coach go in early March, because I felt sort of blah and like I wanted a more relaxed approach in the absence of any Big Goals. We had originally intended that he would coach me through the end of April, as I had a half marathon in early May, but you can guess what happened to that race!

Altogether, I have had four races either straight up cancel or switch to virtual, or a combination. The first one was around St. Patrick’s Day. I think it’s the first time I realized how serious things were getting here, when the city canceled the entire St. Patrick’s Day Festival.

I did a virtual 5K early on in this – towards the end of March. It was the type where you self report your time afterwards through a Google form. They incorporated a photo contest as well. A lot of my coworkers also did the race, even ones who normally aren’t into those things. So it was really cool to see their smiling faces and know that we’d all done the same thing on the same day. The money also went to a great cause. Beyond that, I’m not super motivated to run virtual races. I was originally thinking of running a fall marathon, but I’m hesitant to register for anything for the time being. Perhaps if this goes on for a longer period of time I’ll rethink my stance or garner more enthusiasm for virtual races.

One thing I’ve been doing is trying to set weekly mileage goals and then figuring out how I’ll get there. Like saying, “I’ll try for 25 miles this week, so that means I’ll run these days and have a long run of 8 miles.” There have been a few off weeks, but hey, it’s not like I’m training for anything, right? 

For years, I’ve been an early morning runner. That has fluctuated quite a bit now.  I was off work for about a month of the lockdown, so that gave me schedule flexibility to fit a run in whenever worked best. Now that I’m back to working remotely, I have kept with that a bit, and will sometimes do a lunch run.

I’m enjoying setting my own running plan. It feels kinda throwback. I have also had some other big life changes during the last few months, and running is a constant. It’s something that is steady and within my control even when everything else seems overwhelming and chaotic.

I was majorly bummed about the half marathon, as it was a bucket list race – Yosemite National Park to celebrate turning 40. But ya know, I’ll get there someday! I do really miss group runs, especially long runs. Never again will I take for granted the Church of the Long Run, followed by coffee and bagels and talking about all the big and little things in life. I’m so glad we can connect virtually, but it’s not quite the same.

Mango (Massachusetts)

I wasn’t training for anything in 2020, I was barely racing. Here’s how this year was supposed to have gone: I was supposed to recover physically and mentally and professionally from having kid 2 in 2018. I was supposed to smash goals at a year-end marathon – my one big goal race because I can’t afford to hop into races every weekend – and kick ass at work. I planned to take my oldest on a trip, just him and me, to visit our friends in California during that marathon vacation. We were supposed to have been more financially stable when my husband finished his PhD at the end of last year and found a more secure job (or, you know, any job). Has any of that happened? No of course not. I go back and forth between every single stage of grief about this. I feel like I’ve sacrificed so freaking much in the past few years and this is just one more gigantic stumbling-block in the way.

But here’s the bright side. I have no race FOMO, because no one’s racing. There’s no peer pressure to smash running goals. I’m running in a way that I haven’t run since high school or college. I never competed in school, but I’ve run nearly all my life for fun. In the days before GPS watches, I used to just run around the neighbourhood for an hour, exploring new routes and watching the world go by. Now, I have less free time than ever, and work at my small company is bananas as we desperately try to keep the lights on and make sure everyone still has a job. The run I set out to do each day is a moving meditation, a tiny shred of stress relief in the chaos. The run I get each day that I choose to run is exactly the run I need.

Finally, I’m old-school. No virtual races for me, because if I’m going to pay to run, it’s going to be the full experience with a live, in-person community. I’m just as happy running with or without races. (I know, race directors hate people like me. I’m sorry!) But one day this will all be over and we’ll get that experience back again in some way, shape or form.

What about you? How has running – and your relationship to it – changed over the past few months?

Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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3 comments

  1. I never realized how much I needed running for my sanity, especially during a pandemic. Running was my only escape from the house with my husband and lovely kids, who don’t understand that Mom and Dad still need to “work” 8 hours a day from the house.
    And then my hip started giving me some mysterious sharp pains. And I couldn’t just go get a massage, my usual solution. And I couldn’t even get out of the house for a walk without it hurting. There may have been some loud, ugly scream-cries in my car over all this.
    Thankfully, once I chilled out and let my hip rest, and started an affair with my foam roller, the hip stopped being angry at me. I am very thankful for every run/walk I can do as I build my mileage back up.

    1. OMG, are you me?! Running is totally for sanity reasons right now. And I’m convinced that all the sitting (like waaay more sitting and less walking than I normally do) led to hip pain for me, too. Currently living on my foam roller, and it’s better. I hope your hip is behaving now!

  2. Interesting article, when he was quarantined, he carefully considered the virtual race, but as soon as the quarantine ended, he immediately began to look for interesting races that will take place.