The aged man jogged slowly up a hill. He breathed laboriously as he circled a cul-de-sac, part of his usual running circuit. A dog, out for a walk, wagged its tail and watched as he passed. The man couldn’t help but be self-conscious about his bouncing belly. The young couple smiled indulgently as he went by and huffed out a “good morning”.
Oh, hi. I didn’t see you there. Did you think I was going to tell you a story about someone else? The above paragraph pretty much describes the extent of my running and exercise over the course of the last few weeks. A quick review of my Garmin data shows nothing but a series of monotonous, steady, slow runs for not-many-miles over each of the last 6-8 weeks. In fact, for a while I was thinking my Fenix 5x was on the fritz. For several weeks it kept saying “Unproductive” after every run.
It seems I have become a gregarious runner. While I have enjoyed working at home and not dealing with my daily 38 mile (one way) commute, the one thing I have missed greatly is my favorite running crew from the Chester Valley Trail. I was blessed with the opportunity to begin running with this amazing and talented group of runners via work contacts and, despite the content and makeup of the group changing over the years, they have become some of my best friends. It is a lot easier to get out of bed at 4:00a.m. to run on a cold (or hot) morning when you know the run will include good company and laughter. On those mornings, the reward for logging many miles was a hot cup of coffee and great conversation. The idea of sitting together with friends discussing upcoming races, lives, and families seems a distant memory.
Speaking of racing, that’s another distant memory. Yes, I know there are real races happening right now but they are very different. To stay safe and act responsibly, racing has changed. Gone are the days of getting to the venue early, chatting with strangers as you wait in line to register, or mill about waiting for the start. Gone too are the days of the post race celebration where sweat-soaked runners catch their breath, and talk with friends old and new about the day. COVID-19 protocols dictate that race sign-ups occur on-line, fields are limited, starts are time trial or small, spread out groups. There is no post-race celebration but rather participants are encouraged to depart shortly after crossing the finish line. Like virtual racing, you pay to go run by yourself.
Many of my Wegman’s friends are ultra runners. (Ultra-running is considered to be anything longer than a marathon or greater than 26.2 miles.) Ultra events fit well with COVID-19 protocols. Events are smaller to begin with and the nature of the sport keeps athletes socially distanced. The grass-roots era of ultras usually involved runners providing their own support with courses often run in a loop where athletes can return to their car or other shelter to access their own hydration and nutrition. But I can’t be an ultra runner. I can’t even be a marathoner anymore. I’m good with that, but really miss the motivation of racing.
Triathlon has taken an even bigger hit than running races. There are still some triathlons happening but they are really limited. The transition area in triathlon is typically a crowded space and would be very risky in the COVID-19 world. Again, race directors have made efforts to creatively hold events, but the end result right now holds little appeal for me.
I’m really not trying to make this sound like a whine-fest. It’s just that the current nature of endurance events is not appealing to me. I feel bad for race directors, race timers, and others that make their living from endurance sports and I fear for the future of endurance racing. I’ve written before that I think the endurance sports world will be one of the many aspects of life dramatically changed if and when the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
It seems I’m not the only one in a bit of a motivational funk. It appears athletes up to and including elite level athletes (the polar opposite of yours truly) are also feeling the strain. I do worry about some of my friends whose lives really revolve around endurance sports and the endurance sports community.
So what’s my plan? Well, mostly I’m sitting around eating junk food and hoping motivation returns. It seems like a pretty solid plan. Alright, I’ll admit that perhaps that plan has a few flaws and needs some refinement. In reality my participation in endurance racing and training drops way off in the fall under normal circumstances. As hunting season ramps up and I spend most of my free time in a tree somewhere, my running, riding, and swimming die down. I usually do enough this time of year to maintain some sort of basic fitness and make the chore of potentially dragging a deer 3 miles out of the woods a bit easier. Naturally, at the same time the scale usually creeps upward. I’m sure my annual swing of 5-7 pounds between fall and spring isn’t all that good for me but neither is wine, chocolate, and sitting staring at a computer all day and I’m probably not eliminating those from my life either. I could do without the latter but work deems otherwise.
I am extremely happy I chose to sell my time trial/triathlon bike when I did. That was kind of dumb luck that I made that decision well prior to the discovery of COVID-19. I feel sorry for the poor dude that bought it. He had hopes of doing an Ironman in the near future. He may be lucky to get to do one at all. But at least I’m not saddled with a really expensive bike sitting in my garage. Hmmm. Well, that may not be entirely true. I didn’t get Carl out as much as usual this summer either. Normally I ride quite a few miles with the local bike club but all of our group rides were cancelled until recently. Otherwise, I am motivated to ride more by not wanting to have the slowest bike split out of an entire field of triathletes. So Carl saw limited action on the local roads and trails this summer and has been on the trainer since the first day temperatures were in the 50s. Poor Carl does need a bath and some TLC though.
I think my real plan is to persevere which I guess is everyone’s plan through the pandemic. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll indulge in the annual tradition of looking for events to target for next year. It’s a bit of a challenge since it’s anyone’s guess what is and isn’t going to go on. I haven’t signed up for much lately, but have at least three events for which I’m already on a postponed/deferral list. I can’t imagine how some of my busier racing friends are keeping track of all this stuff.