The longer the race, the stronger they get
Because of the pandemic, races have been canceled indefinitely. For the many runners who seldom or never race, this is no significant change. Of course, you don’t have to race in order to be a runner. But, for the runners who raced frequently, this is a major loss and disruption. Habitual racers often use races as motivation to train hard, in order to maintain health and performance. Without an upcoming race on the calendar, many are at a loss and need to make major adjustments or substitutions.
New runners are often told: if you want to get better, sign up for a race several months in the future and start preparing. The anxiety of a looming race getting closer every day is usually a sufficient motivator to get the adrenaline flowing. For experienced racers, motivation comes from the prospect of finally beating the person who always finished just ahead of you. It can also come from setting a personal record, in a distance you have run previously. It may, instead, come from breaking a time goal, such as three hours in a marathon. It may even come from racing a distance never attempted or racing in a very new and different location. It may mean doing a track race or a cross-country race for the first time.
So how can a race addicted runner keep on trucking? The first thought: sign up for virtual races. You can pay a fee, run the distance on your own, and receive a certificate of some sort. Virtuals can be good for fundraising, but I wonder why an individual can’t do the same on his or her own. One idea is to pick a race you ran, where you know the exact start and finish point. Circle a date on the calendar a month ahead and start training for it, with the goal of improving your performance from last time. Treat it like it is a real race. Remember, all the workouts you did for race preparation still help you stay strong and fast, even if there isn’t an official race. Use those hill repeats, intervals, tempo runs, long runs, and whatever else you did to stay in your best shape. All those great workouts still work for you; the pandemic can’t take them away. Cherish them and use them, even if you’re not racing.
Another plan involves setting up repeated time trials for yourself. Select a specific distance on a familiar course. Every two or three weeks, warm up and run that distance to see if you can maintain your time or possibly improve it. This gives you a barometer of your fitness level and keeps you motivated. These plans will keep you in fairly good shape until races begin again; you will have a jump on your competitors, who gave up their training during the pandemic.
Yet another strategy is to stop racing altogether and switch to streaking. This will ease the race addiction and give you a new and totally different goal. See how many consecutive days you can run a predetermined number of miles or minutes. Keeping a streak going is not easy given changes in weather, work schedules, family events, and health issues.
Since it could be a long period before you pin a bib number on your shirt once again, it may be time to think about what the non-racers were, and still are, getting out of running. Let’s face it, preparing for races, while challenging and exciting, can also be grueling, painful, and even boring. As already stated, running is much more than just racing: remember all the health benefits of running; recall the exhilaration or high; the chance to see beautiful scenery; explore new areas on foot; the satisfaction of working up a sweat; and how great food tastes after a good run. In short, use this race-less time to remember some of the simple joys of running before you became a racer.