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More people are getting vaccinated, allowing COVID-19 restrictions on big events to ease in cities like New York, where the Mini 10K was held on June 12 with 3,000 entrants. While a lot of runners are eager to get to those start lines, how you approach your first race back is important.
Molly Seidel, who is training for the 2021 Olympic marathon on August 7 in Sapporo, Japan, was lucky enough to race a few times during the pandemic at small, mostly elite-only competitions. At the London Marathon in October she came away with a personal record (2:25:13) and in February at a half marathon in Atlanta she finished in another best of 1:08:29.
“I’ve been very, very lucky to get a lot of race opportunities this year,” she says, “which is unusual.”
Ted Metellus, race director of the New York City Marathon, which is planning to host 33,000 runners on November 7, says he and his team at New York Road Runners have been putting on smaller-scale races since September. Their priority is always to communicate clearly with participants so that they know what to expect in regard to COVID-19 safety precautions and have learned to evolve the protocols and logistics as the state and city change policies.
NYRR, like many other race organizations, have studied crowd flow and density, how touch-points (like aid stations) can be managed safely, and other ways in which they can produce events while still allowing participants to feel safe in their return.
“More people are seeing not only the physical benefits of running and being outside, but the mental benefits,” Metellus says. “Participants really want to engage in this sport, in this activity, and that’s been pretty awesome to see. It shows value in what we’re doing.”
Seidel placed 5th at the Mini 10K in 32:13, and she’s learned a few tips and tricks to handle the transition back into a racing routine — something most of us haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy for 15 months or more. Fortunately, she’s willing to share what she knows.
1. Decide if you’re ready to dive back in again.
Just because the races are coming back doesn’t mean you’re ready to sign up yet, even if your group of running friends is registering. We are all coming out of the pandemic with different experiences and circumstances, so give yourself some grace if a road race isn’t the first thing you want to do as COVID-19 rates recede.
“First and foremost, trust your own gut instinct on what you feel comfortable with,” Seidel says. “It’s OK to not be OK sometimes. It’s OK to not feel comfortable. I was lucky and traveled a lot during the pandemic and my set-point had to be a lot higher.”
If you’re not ready to travel far or fly, start with a local, smaller race.
“Stay true to what you feel comfortable with, because any added stress is just that: stress,” she says. “You don’t want added stressors when you’re thinking about a race. Stick to what feels safe.”
2. Have compassion for yourself.
Although most of us aren’t getting paid to race, we still go after results and want our performances to reflect the effort we put into preparing. But, we also haven’t gone head-to-head with anybody in a long time — we forget the fundamentals sometimes like pacing, hydration, and even the simplest race morning routines like timing breakfast the right way.
“I experienced this coming back from injury — I went a full year and a half without racing from 2018 to 2019 — and it’s kinda hard. You might not feel that sharpness or that competitive drive if somebody is passing you,” she says. “Remember that racing is a skill and just like fitness you have to develop as well. If the competitiveness isn’t there at first, you haven’t lost it forever. You just have to work on developing it again.”
3. Enjoy it.
No matter what the clock says when you finish or how many people in your age group had a better day, take a moment to appreciate the opportunity. We now know how quickly racing can disappear — along with the sense of community and the fun that comes with it. Let’s never take that for granted again.
“Even if it doesn’t go the way that you necessarily want it to go, just appreciate how awesome it is to get to race again,” Seidel says. “My very first race back, I was just overwhelmed with the feeling, ‘Oh my God, I get to do this again,’” Seidel says. “It’s so cool to have this in my life again.”
From Women’s Running