I’ve often lamented, in recent years, that when life got really busy – too busy, really – running took a backseat or even dropped off the agenda completely. In a life that was packed with constant rushing – rushing to pack lunches and get two dawdling kids out the door to school each morning; rushing to work; rushing to meetings; rushing home; rushing to cram in all of the little life things that have to get done in order to make the days happen – in all that rushing, running just felt impossible. It was one more thing to think about and plan for, or maybe wake up early for. It was just… not doable. Okay, I could have made it work if it was important enough to me; I recognize that. And I also knew objectively that if I took that time for myself I would be happier and would have more energy and patience for the day-to-day slog. There are a lot of excuses, and certainly the clamoring demands of clients, colleagues, school administrators and kids were louder and more insistent than the little voice in my head that said “You’re important, too.” But ultimately I chose not to prioritize myself.
Enter COVID-19. The last “normal” day, at least in our family, was Friday, March 13 – pretty appropriate, huh? The kids came home from school that day loaded up with their distance learning packets “just in case” and we prepared for what we figured would be a few weeks of hunkering down at home through the tail end of winter and early spring. Those first couple of weeks were focused on figuring out how to make this social distancing thing work for our family – balancing parents’ work schedules with kiddo needs. Then on March 23, the Governor announced that all Virginia schools would be closed through the end of the school year – and suddenly, we were confronted with a surreal situation that was going to stretch much, much longer.
I wouldn’t say the routine got easier, but somewhere in there, I started feeling an itch to run again. Part of it was needing to feel like I had something reserved for me, and with a reading slump (pandemic-induced, and ongoing) books weren’t fitting the bill. I pulled out my running shoes and started hitting the bike path a few times a week, running a neighborhood loop that kept me close to home. The running itself didn’t feel great – comebacks never do – but it felt wonderful to be carving out a time and space for myself.
After a few weeks of casually running, I opened up my inbox to an email from Another Mother Runner, one of my favorite running-focused online spaces, advertising a virtual race series, complete with training program, coaching, and a private Facebook community in which participants could exchange messages and encouragement. Like everything AMR stands for, the program was flexible, designed to fit into a mom’s busy life, and promised a warm and welcoming atmosphere. I knew instantly that it was what I needed. I signed up right then and there.
And it has been exactly what I needed. There’s been a lot of conversation in the private Facebook group about the training plan. Some of the participants abandoned it quickly, preferring to run by feel – many of them felt even more overwhelmed by the training plan; to them it was yet another thing that “had” to be done in days that already felt too burdensome. Others – and I fall into this second group – have found the training plan to be a lifeline. Each morning, I pull up the calendar to see what I am doing, and it’s a decision I don’t have to make. It’s one thing that is simple. If it says intervals, I do intervals. If it says cross-training, I do barre. The training plan, and the virtual races, have given me something solid to hang onto when the foundations of the world are shifting.
I’m not a very good self-motivated runner. Every so often, I’ll head out on the trails just for the joy of the experience, the fresh air, the movement and the peace. But that’s rare. To stick to a training plan long-term, I need to be working toward something – which is why, when I was running consistently, I kept up a steady schedule of races from local 5Ks to half marathons. Training for races fell by the wayside after Nugget came along, which is a huge part of why running fell by the wayside. I need the motivation of knowing there is a start line and – even more important – a finish line, ideally with a shiny medal I can hang on my wall to remind me of my achievement. Everyone is motivated by something; as I told my neighbor Zoya (motivated by ice cream), I am motivated by shiny things.
Clearly, the future of running races is pretty up in the air at the moment. I’m hoping things will start up again in the fall; if they do, now that I am back in my running shoes I have a goal for next fall. (Summer isn’t a big race season in DC anyway – too hot. Once spring races are over here, things quiet down substantially until the weather begins to cool off.) Enter: virtual races.
Virtual races are nothing new for me! I even ran a virtual half marathon, on packed snow and in sub-zero temperatures, back in 2014. (What was I thinking?) So it seemed like a no-brainer to sign up, not only for the AMR virtual race series, but for a virtual 5K (“Rock Your Block”) hosted by Potomac River Running, a local chain of running stories in the DC area.
It was already warming up when I headed out at around 9:00 in the morning; note to self – get out the door earlier next time. I wore the race shirt and stuck the bib on with my DC flag racedots, and people shouted encouragement at me all along the bike path. It wasn’t quite the same scene as a race with thousands of other runners and spectators, and bands and bananas at the finish line, but it was plenty good enough for me to remember how good it feels to chase my own goals for a change. And after all, I don’t really need spectators and finish line bananas, as long as I get something shiny.
(If you couldn’t tell, I’ve quit being embarrassed about liking race bling and am leaning into it hardcore.) This is a hard time for everybody. We’re all coping in our own ways. If you’d asked me back in March whether I thought it was likely that the thing that would hold my sanity together would be running virtual races, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy – but here we are, in June, and my key rack is sagging with the weight of medals from virtual running events. I’m waiting to see if a local trail race that I’m tentatively registered for ends up going forward in September; I hope it does. But I kind of already feel like I’ve won. I have running back, and I had no idea how much I needed that.
What are you doing to stay sane in these uncertain times?