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  • Writer's pictureJacob Puzey

A Dream Deferred

"What happens to a dream deferred?"

- Langston Hughes

Like most runners, the races for which I was training in early 2020 have been cancelled or postponed. These were more than dates on the calendar for me - they were days of reckoning for which I was preparing and into which I was channeling significant energy and resources. These races also represented times when I would connect with friends, family, and athletes I coach while also fulfilling my fiduciary commitments to the companies that support me as an athlete.

These cancellations and postponements have brought with them a lot of unknowns:

  • What should I do?

  • Should I continue training?

  • Should I dial it back?

  • Should I find other goals?

In addition to race cancellations and postponements for myself, these cancellations have created challenges for the majority of those I coach. Should they do a virtual version of the race, defer until next year, shift the focus to another event that has not yet been cancelled or shut it down for a bit before working towards the new date?

Most of us have been training for months (if not years) to run a personal best, to run further than ever before, to finish a race or distance that really challenges us mentally and physically - to qualify for the Boston Marathon or to run a qualifying race for the Western States 100 or UTMB. All of these are worthwhile goals and for many, there may not be an opportunity in 2020 to realize these goals.

So what should we do during this time of uncertainty?

What should we do with our fitness, our goals, our aspirations?

It depends.

When something as novel as COVID19 is thrown into the equation, there really are so many unknowns that it is hard to know how to proceed except to rely on the guidance of those qualified to make such decisions (doctors and public health officials).

In all cases, we should defer to those in charge of the public health of the place in which we reside. Even if we don’t agree with them, chances are they know more than we know about what will be most effective for the health of the communities in which we live.

That being said, here are a few ideas that you might consider.

* In all cases, please defer to the guidance of the governing health officials in your area.

Run a Time Trial

If you are feeling fit and really want to test yourself (and you are permitted to do so by your doctor, public health officials, and government), this is a great way to still have a race day experience without having to deal with race-day nerves.

One thing that many of us love about running is the personal accountability inherent in it. We are responsible for our own training and our own performances. A time trial is a great opportunity to control the variables and test your current fitness.

Think of a way to simulate the goal race for which you have been training within the parameters established by your local government and health officials. If you can do it outside on a course similar to that for which you have been training, great. If you have to do it on a treadmill, that’s fine, too. In fact, it will allow you to control even more variables.

Note: You don’t have to replicate the entire race. You could break the race distance into shorter intervals and try to run them at goal pace. For example, rather than running an entire marathon, you could do 4 – 5 x 5K or 3 mile repeats at Goal Marathon pace or you could do the Hanson’s Marathon Simulator by running 26.2 K / ~ 16 miles @ Goal Marathon Pace.

Again, this may not be exactly what you have prepared for, but it might be a fun way to test yourself and see the progress that you have made.

Another idea is to find a route that you enjoy and have run before and simply try to best your previous time on it. If you are really competitive, you might even consider doing this on Strava and matching your performance against those of others.

And if you are really feeling fit, why not try to run the entire distance as a time trial or a virtual race. Who knows? You might surprise yourself and that certainly bodes well for increased confidence going into the next build toward your next scheduled goal race.

That’s what I did when I ran 50 miles on the treadmill a few years ago at the Running Event. Sure, I was incentivized for a few other reasons (I needed a treadmill), but at its core, my #1 goal was to simply see how fast I could run 50 miles without having to worry about any of the other variables (aid stations, crew, weather, course profile and technicality, etc.). All I had to do was run and the rest was right at my fingertips.

Personally, I’m looking forward to tackling a few routes that I’ve wanted to run, but haven’t been able to fit into my schedule in the past due in large part to the races on my calendar. They simply wouldn’t fit with the training and tapering I was trying to do at the time, but now that those races are no longer on my calendar, I might be able to do some of the local routes that I have been putting off. While I’m not as strong a runner as many who have run in my area, there are a few routes that I’ve been eyeing that I’d like to try my hand at for an FKT or two. Details TBD.

Flatten the Curve

If your training for your goal race hasn’t gone as planned and you aren’t feeling the desire or interest in testing yourself, that’s fine too. In fact, consider this time as a new lease on your training life. You get more time to build your base and prepare for your goal race. Cut back on the really intense workouts and/or the draining long runs and just focus on consistency. There will be other races. Think long term. Running is not about "short frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Chances are, you have more discretionary time that you had before this outbreak so use it to your advantage. Make a goal of moving daily. As you increase the frequency of movement, gradually increase the total weekly volume and duration of movement as well. Remember, it's all about the base.

1968 Boston Marathon Champion, Amby Burfoot, shares some insight into how to train during this time of uncertainty in a recent Podium Runner article, entitled, "How to Train and Eat to Boost Your Immunity from Coronavirus: Practical advice on running and your immune system straight from the world’s leading exercise-immunity researcher."

Increase Durability

In addition to increasing your aerobic base, now is a great time to increase durability and consistently do the things that you have always known that you should be doing, but tend to neglect because life gets busy.

Start with the Foundation Series. Do this before every run. At the very least, start with the foam rolling and massage with the massage ball and gradually add these movements before and after your runs. You will notice a difference.

Add a body weight circuit that you can do from home or just about anywhere – even if your local gym or park is closed.

Coach Malc Kent and I discuss more ideas, in Episode 23 of the Art and Science of Running Podcast.

Practice an Attitude of Gratitude

This time of uncertainty, fear, financial instability, and social isolation is difficult on all of us, but like a race that doesn't go as planned, this can also be a really good time to reflect on what matters most and prioritize what you do by answering why you do the things that you do. Rather than making things more complicated, this time might actually help us simplify our lives and remember and recognize what we have. We have our health. We have each other. We have these incredible bodies that allow us to do extraordinary things in beautiful places (even if those places happen to be captured on film and projected through a screen on our treadmills). We are, indeed, fortunate to be alive and enjoy the bounties that we enjoy.

In addition to reflecting upon the things in your life that matter most, use this time to ask yourself why you run:

  • Is it for the people?

  • Is it for the way it makes you feel?

  • Is it to fit into a certain size of jeans or to fit an image of yourself that you feel you need to be?

  • Is it for the medal?

  • Is it for a sense of purpose?

  • Is it for the structure?

There are a lot of reasons to run and I'm not here to tell you that one is better than the other or that we should only have one reason to run. Regardless of your motivations, I encourage you at this time to #rungrateful, #begrateful, and #livegrateful.

In the video below, my brother, Tommy, shares some insight into how he approaches running, racing, and life with an attitude of gratitude that I think could be really helpful for all of us at this time.

Be grateful for your health, the shelter over your head, the food on your table, in your cabinets and in your refrigerator, and hopefully the ability to move (whether indoors or out). Be grateful for this opportunity to reflect on who you are, what makes you tick, and what really matters to you. Consider why you do what you do and how you can become a more authentic version of you. Hopefully, this time of physical and social isolation will help us all simplify our lives and become even better versions of the selves that we so aspire to be.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll become even better runners, but even if we don’t, at the very least I am hopeful that we will have a better understanding of the role that running plays in our lives and how we can harness it to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

A Dream Deferred

I used the line from Langston Hughes's, "Harlem" to start this piece as a means of putting things into perspective. Missing a race or having to defer a race to another date is nothing compared to the trials or conditions under which Hughes, his contemporaries, and predecessors lived that led to the Harlem Renaissance. While these times are challenging for all of us, let's use this time to be grateful for the opportunities that we have and "be the change that we want to see in the world."

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