With everything that’s going on with Covid-19, I’m not going to complain about not being able to race. It seems superfluous when you think of people getting sick, dying and those working the front-lines. However, all these races getting cancelled/postponed is shaking up the running world and it’s worth discussing.
I’m trying to embrace the loneliness of the long-distance runner, but man do I miss running with other people. One thing that races offer is comradery. Seeing familiar faces and catching up at a race expo, comparing notes on how training went leading up to the races … maybe laying down some excuses to lower someone’s expectations. The warm-up is often filled with monotone conversation compared to the animated war-stories on the cool-down. I love to dissect a race as I usually don’t remember certain things that happened in the race until I’m talking about it.
During this period without races there are two things that stick out to me as challenges: 1) Motivation and 2) Training structure/emphasis.
The most frustrating part of races getting postponed is the uncertainty of when they’ll start back up. If someone told me my next race would definitely go ahead in September that would be music to my ears at this point. Knowing how long to do base training, when to incorporate speed and when to prepare for a goal race helps a lot with achieving peak performance.
I’m hoping we have a clearer sense in July about what the fall has in store for races. In the meantime I’ve adjusted my training to be sustainable, reduce risk to injury while trying to make incremental progress.
Being able to run is a privilege and currently I’m able to train at a decent level so I consider myself fortunate. A heck of lot more progress can be made under these circumstances than when I’ve been off with an injury. You can look to elite moms, such as Malindi Elmore and Krista Duchene, who have run some of their best races after not racing for many months when having kids.
The longest I’ve gone without racing in the past 20 years is about six months. If races don’t start back-up by September I’ll surpass my longest non-race streak. So far the racing void hasn’t had a big impact on me emotionally as I raced as recently as March 1. But if races don’t start back-up by September I’ll surpass my longest non-racing streak and I’m sure I’ll be feeling the withdrawal (and lack of income).
As a coach I tell my athletes that the most important thing is to come out of this period with consistency. That means staying healthy. Seeing as most of us don’t have access to physiotherapy, it’s best to err on the side of caution if you feel something “off.”
It’s normal to take some down-time after a goal race. Without a goal race this spring it’s important to proactively take a little down-time and not pile on month after month without a break.
Some of the athletes I coach are very motivated to make gains in the next handful of months and their training keeps clicking along without a race in sight. They’re able to focus on the big picture and that keeps them excited day-to-day.
And then there are the athletes like myself, where motivation wavers.
The other morning I was supposed to do a tempo run but it was pouring rain. If I had a race coming up I wouldn’t have hesitated to complete the workout. This time, however, I waited an extra day to take on the tempo run. Other times I have done the workouts, but have aimed for much slower paces.
Without the carrot of a race it’s normal for motivation to be lower than normal. If you’re not excited to push the pace or distance then don’t force it. Getting out the door for an easy run is better than nothing (as long as you feel healthy) and you’ll be in a good spot when races are back on the calendar and your fire returns.
Goal races are the big thing people are missing: Boston Marathon, Ottawa race weekend, Sun Run, Vancouver Marathon and Calgary to name a few. But let’s not overlook the rust-busters. I often see a dramatic improvement in my training in the weeks following a rust-buster race. At some point I may do a 5km time-trial for that very reason.
Time-trials aren’t always great for comparing performances because, if you’re like me, I never seem to push myself for a time-trial like I do in a race. I get nervous before a race and I can feel the adrenaline, it’s not the same unless I’m lining up on a start-line with competitors. I miss the pre-race routine where I have to double-check everything (do I have my shoes, my bib, singlet?) because my mind is so focused on the race.
I’m pretty sure if I attempt a time-trial in a few weeks it will help progress my training, and that is the goal. If you don’t want to compare race times pick a different distance such as 4km or 7.5km.
Virtual races are a great idea in terms of connecting with cancelled races and other runners. They can add some motivation and interest into your running program, especially if you feel as though you’re doing the same thing every week.
If you’re aiming to run a fast time and push your limits in a virtual race aim for a negative split.
I find when pushing for a solo time that you want to feel good towards the end and you have a better chance of feeling good with a conservative start.
To keep the training interesting I’ve been trying to get Strava “crowns” or improving my times on segments. It gives me a little extra push when I need it and keeps the competitive juices flowing. It’s especially fun when the person you took the crown from can go and defend it.
Figure out what motivates you, set some achievable goals, have a training plan that has a focus and flexibility, have fun and stay safe. Have faith that, eventually, this life without racing will end.