On Running Through a Pandemic

With the onset of a pandemic, these are uncertain times. •••Cheers if you’re drinking every time you hear that phrase! All over the world, countries are taking extraordinary measures to stem the spread of coronavirus. And we’re seeing a wave of social responsibility sweeping through large swathes of the world’s population.

Nobody knows what the world will look like a month from now, let alone half a year into the future. In the age of viral pandemics and social distancing, uncertainty is the only certainty.

The 2020 Spring Racing Season Is Cancelled

One inescapable fact of the current threat to the world is that the spring racing is cancelled. Pretty much every significant race around the world scheduled to take place in the second half of March or April has already been cancelled or postponed.

In a situation where the whole world is coming together to save lives, this might seem like a footnote. It is a footnote. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be disappointed.

We are runners, and running is what we do. The vast majority of us train to race. Many of us have been preparing for months, or perhaps even years for that particular occasion. An occasion that will now never come to pass. Despite that being entirely insignificant in the grand scheme of things, we are allowed to be disappointed. Of course, we are.

Take Some Time to Reflect

Having a goal race cancelled is an opportunity to take some time to reflect. Instead of rushing towards the next goal, it can be beneficial to take a step back and reflect on what running means to you.

Take stock of what running means to you. Head out for a few easy runs where you don’t concentrate on splits and effort. Run by feel instead, and let your mind wander and your body feel the joy of the simple act of running.

Running through a pandemic - Image of a sunset
As the sun will rise again tomorrow, races will come back once the current situation is under control.

Think about your running goals, and in particular your long term goals. Are they the same as when you first started running or last contemplated them? By giving yourself space to breathe and feel, you might be surprised by how much the journey has changed your outlook.

Even the most goal-oriented runners tend to fall in love with the process as they chase their goals. Maybe, just maybe, not running that particular race doesn’t mean that much in the scheme of things, after all.

Mix Up Your Training

Once you’ve given yourself pause for consideration, it is time to get back to the drawing board again. Having no races on the schedule can be an excellent opportunity to mix up your training.

Rather than optimising for a particular race, you now have room to experiment and take some risks. Now is the time to add new elements to your training. If you have been thinking about getting started with hill work, strides or a strength routine, you’ll never get a better opportunity.

Perhaps you have been running yourself into the ground while preparing for the race that’s now cancelled. Then it makes sense to dial back on your training for a couple of weeks, and let your body recuperate.

Use this chance to gain experience in dealing with unforeseen circumstances, and you will become a well-rounded runner in every measure. Not only will you start your next race-specific training block in better shape than ever, but you’ll be prepared to handle other curve-balls like injuries, too.

The Canadian Sports Institute has prepared an overview on mental strategies you can employ. Although targeted towards elite athletes, there are valuable takeaways and learnings for us amateurs as well.

Scratch Your Itch to Race With Virtual Races

If you still feel compelled to test yourself to see how far you’ve come, there are options for that as well. Virtual races, where you participate by sharing data from your watch or phone, are popping up everywhere. 

These races where you compete against other runners throughout the world can be a great motivator compared to just going out and timing yourself. Here are a couple of options, if you’re interested:

Another great option is to join the Run161 Strava Club. Here, runners from all around the world share their training and cheer each other on.

Stay Safe and Do Your Part

Current research on coronavirus indicates that running outside is low risk in terms of contracting and infecting others. However, you should be mindful and listen to official advice from local and national authorities in your part of the world.

If the directions state that you should avoid group activities, run alone. If you’re told to stay at inside, respect the curfew. Don’t be the person who puts their wants ahead of the greater good. All of us can and should contribute to minimising the impact of the virus.

And if you think that means that you can’t train, think again. Our Chinese running friends have already shown us that, if you’re dedicated, you can log your miles even when confined to staying indoors. Without a treadmill.