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At uncertain times like now there are many concerns, but there are also opportunities, especially relating to running. As a coach I’ve had dozens of conversations over the past week about this exact topic, and found a few key concepts that have helped my runners cope with this crisis.
Tap Your Distance Runner Adaptability, Positivity and Endurance
There’s a big overlap between the endurance running skill set and what’s needed to deal with current circumstances. For example, if things aren’t going as expected in a race, it’s vital you recognize that instead of trying to stick to plan A while stressing about how the plan no longer fits. If it’s a hotter, wetter or windier day than expected, then the sooner you accept this and adjust pacing and tactics, the better the race will go. Even if conditions also lead to a slower time, it is possible to finish higher up in the field due to better execution.
In a race, you do well to avoid dwelling on the negatives (e.g., not being on pace for the goal time, or the pace feeling harder than usual, etc.) and instead focus on the positives (e.g., “this is a bigger challenge so bring it on,” or passing runners who haven’t allowed for the extra difficulties, etc.).
Most of the runners I coach train for ultras. In an ultra, the terrain, gradient, amount of light and numerous other factors vary, meaning they already expect more surprises than for road races. The ultra mentality assumes there will be issues to overcome and learns to handle them, rather than trying to control every element, to create the perfect PR race-day. In fact, problem solving ability is one of the determining factors for ultra success, given it’s impossible to completely avoid complications. This ultra mentality is ideal for rolling with the punches and not getting derailed wishing things were different, and then failing to modify tactics.
Bringing this back to the coronavirus, a distance-runner mentality means planning for the worst, but adapting to the inevitable roadblocks and also taking advantage of potential benefits. What benefits could these possibly be? Here are just a few possibilities:
- Avoiding your daily commute due to working at home
- Having more time and flexibility for running
- Having more family time
- Having adequate time to prepare fully for your next race
- Discovering new challenges and adventures
I don’t mean to belittle the difficulties, but being able to let go of things out of your control and concentrate your energy on dealing with the opportunities ahead is more productive and reduces stress.
Maintain Motivation Through Creativity
Finding ways to stay engaged with training is essential through any changes to routine and the associated turmoil. Canceled races demoralize runners because we feel we’ve lost something, but races will be back in the not-too-distant future, so the aim is to enjoy getting out the door to run right now. Note that solo outdoor running, with social distancing, is not considered an issue by medical authorities and is recommended to help with mental and physical well-being.
Once we accept the loss, we can look around for new motivators for our running. Perhaps there are routes or areas you always meant to check out on runs but it never seemed to fit in with the build-up to the next race. Now’s the time to take advantage of not needing specific training for a race in the next few weeks. Perhaps you’re a road runner who avoids trails—this could be the time to find out what you’ve been missing. Take on the spirit of adventure to explore, which can be done very close to home or a little farther afield without having to mingle excessively (like flying).
Also, races aren’t the only speed targets. A few ideas that my runners have taken on:
- Solo time trials on a treadmill or track
- Virtual races (my local marathon in April has chosen this option)
- Aiming for personal records on trails or roads near home
- Chasing Strava segments or Fastest Known Times (FKTs)
It doesn’t have to be about speed, either: How about taking on something bigger or more epic? For example, circumnavigating a mountain (I’m planning on running 40 miles around Mt Hood and 93 miles around Mt Rainier this summer, both of which I’m lucky I can drive to). Plot a route that circles a local lake, to the top of the tallest hill around, or to a nearby town, state park, or state border. You can cover every section of a bike path, or every route around your town or city. Be creative and adventurous.
Long distance running teaches us patience and discipline which helps navigate the uncertainty of the coming months. Conversely, the way we cope with this will improve our adaptability and resilience in races. This is the time to embrace original ideas and find new aspects of running that will outlast 2020. The only limit is your imagination.
Ian Sharman is Head Coach at Sharman Ultra and a professional ultra runner voted 4th in the Ultrarunner of the Decade rankings with a 2:21 marathon PR.