Within three weeks of the pandemic, I couldn’t bring myself to run at all. Looking back on it now, I understand ‘why’
As the pandemic took hold, races were dropped like loose change. And not just the big races either. All races were taken off the calendars faster than you can say “Wash your hands!” Within a few weeks, I couldn’t bring myself to run at all. This pandemic became an opportunity for me to rethink why I run at all, and to rebuild my weekly running routine.
This is something that I’m going to have to spend more time reflecting on: My major (and probably only) WHY had always been tied to a goal race. In other words, having a goal race on the calendar had been the only thing getting me out the door for a run. That’s not a bad thing, until there ain’t a goal race on my calendar.
At first, I was all about PRing 5K and 10K race times. From there, I set my sights on completing a half marathon distance, and then to PR in subsequent halfs.
Now I have my sights set on completing my first marathon. My goal race was the Rock & Roll Nashville Marathon (aka the Country Music Marathon). It was supposed to be in April but was cancelled, like everything else. What made that especially demoralizing for me was that I had planned to run my first marathon two other times. I was going to run my first marathon in April of 2019 (Rock & Roll Nashville), but my son’s First Communion ended up being scheduled for that same weekend. So I planned on November 2019 (Nashville Marathon), and fully completed a twenty week training cycle. My car broke down hours from the race start, I live an hour from Nashville and didn’t know anyone else heading that way.
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I had already started a new training cycle for this third attempt at running a first marathon, so when the inevitable cancellation was announced I felt defeated. It also felt like running itself was pointless without a clear goal.
At first, planned to stick to my training plan through the pandemic and then stubbornly run my own solo marathon. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who thought that was a great idea. Plenty of runners did the same, even in parts of the world where governments forbade long outdoor runs and bike rides. For a few extreme examples, there was dude who ran 26.2 miles on his apartment balcony and the other cat who ran a marathon in his garden.
But within a week I just didn’t have it in me. The reason why I ran had vanished.
Grief & moral fatigue
Looking back on it now, I realize that I was doing more than just feeling sorry for myself. (Although, I was totally feeling sorry for myself.)
I spent a few weeks going through a grieving process. At first, I didn’t realize that’s what was happening. After all, I hadn’t suffered personal loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However a great deal had been written about how a lot of people were likely grieving throughout the pandemic without realizing it. And the grief was entirely appropriate. Life as we knew it had been turned on it’s head, everything in the news was terrifying, and every day seemed to be filled with uncertainty. The period of grief was followed by a period of moral fatigue. I was content to just go to work, hit the store twice a week, but then otherwise stay indoors.
I see no fault in taking a few weeks off from running. And in the end, it was a good thing because it allowed me to re-build my weekly running habits, as I’ll explain here. But still, I wonder: If I had had more than one why would I have continued to run as planned, even through the emotional roller-coaster?
Opportunity to rebuild
What got me to ease back in to running were three things:
Thing one: I work a delivery job that puts be in a variety of neighborhoods. Honestly, seeing other people out for runs on some mornings made me wanna get back to running again
Thing two: Identifying what was happening to me emotionally made a big difference. My pastor spoke of grieving in a homily during a live streamed mass, a few different podcasts I happened to listen to discussed moral fatigue, and a great deal had been written about both. That helped me grant myself permission to take the time to process everything.
Thing three: How Was Your Run Today, a favorite podcast of mine, had coach Paul Davies on to discuss training plans during stressful times. Like a global pandemic, for example 😜. It was episode 191, and you can listen to it right HERE.
Davies pointed out that the human body can only handle so much stress. The point of training is to introduce a little more stress to the body, allow it to adapt, and then introduce a little more stress. That’s obvious enough, right? Well, we are going through period of massive stress and, to put it simply, stress is stress, physiologically speaking.
He advised against tackling a typical marathon training plan, because that would be overdoing it. Rather, he suggested combining easy mileage with low-stress activities such as strength and mobility exercises (aka SAM) and form drills. Those are all things that runners typically struggle to include anyhow, so now is a perfect opportunity to build those into a weekly routine. Plus, they will pay off later, when races begin to reappear on the calendars again.
Need to re-think my why
I had a why again! With that in mind, I eased back in to running with the aim of rebuilding a weekly routine that included regular SAM exercises, more yoga, and twice weekly strength training. If I can make those things normal parts of my running week, it’ll be easy to maintain those activities throughout a new training cycle.
Reframing this time as an opportunity to build some better training habits into my week helped. This was also an opportunity for me to realize that I need to re-think my why.
I need a race on my calendar to keep me running. That ain’t a bad thing. In fact, that’s pretty awesome.
However it would be a good idea to identify a few strong secondary motives. SAM, strength training, and yoga fulfills a solid secondary motive: physical fitness. So right there, BAM!, I have a good secondary why. But I’d like a third objective. Perhaps I can articulate for myself something spiritual, or emotional.
My why is something that I will continue to reflect on, and revisit each and every training period. Having a why is important, and now I know that I need a second and even a third objective to keep me lacing up my shoes and getting out the door.