How a Pandemic Forced Me To Love Running Again
Running has evolved for me over the years and the biggest change happened during Covid. Up to that point, I had been incredibly active in a local mom’s running group and was always training for a race. If I wasn’t training for a race, I was joining friends on their training runs. I was fast. I could run far. I wanted all the PRs. Then, I didn’t.
Covid stopped group runs and events and at first, it was awful. I loved the camaraderie that came with running and the adrenaline of race day. For the better part of a year, my runs were limited to a few close friends or alone and completing a training plan was incredibly difficult. What surprised me most, was that this time didn’t ruin running for me at all. No more spending hours of my weekend on long training runs because, let’s be honest with each other, it is zero fun without your running buddies. So much of a long run is chats, inappropriate conversations, and a common loathing for what we are doing.
At first, I felt defeated. Almost like I wasn’t doing it right if I wasn’t out getting in pace repeats or tempo runs. I found my pace slowing and my distance shortening and I’d be lying if it wasn’t a little anxiety inducing. I truly felt like I was losing everything I had worked years to do: I had nailed that sub 24 min 5k and now I could hardly finish a four mile run after being able to do a 10k with an 8:55 mile split.
I love running more than ever, BUT it took time.
What it finally took was for me to get back on the trails. I had a few friends that also loved trail running, but it was hard to coordinate with each other. Besides, as a health care worker, I started to fall in love with the solitude of a trail run with no expectations. It became the best thing for me during that weird, weird, time. I could put on my music or an audio book and just go out to the trees. Trees have a calming effect on me, it sounds crazy, unless you are also a trail runner. It’s a thing, I’m not some hippie dippy crystal lover (okay, yes, I am), and while I love a good hike, there’s something about running on trails.
Pre-Covid me would have gone crazy having to attempt a tempo run or goal pace repeats on trails and was a big reason why I maybe went for a trail run once every couple weeks. My perspective changed when I was bored on the asphalt and sidewalks and headed back to the woods. Trails force me to slow down and take my time in tricky terrain and it’s humbling. One day I can get out there and knock out a 5 mile loop and the next time I’m walking half of my three mile route. Maybe my favorite part of trail running is that you have no idea how far you are going. There’s no straightaway or end point in sight to discourage you or make you focus on the end. You just go.
Peace out, racing.
There are several trail races where I live and I have done them, but something also happened during Covid when there weren’t any events to attend. I found that I just plain didn’t want to train. Like ever. I did participate in a trail Ragnar post covid because our team deferred when the race got canceled. I trained zero days for it. I went out and did my typical runs in the woods, but showed up race day having run no more than 5 miles in one go. I survived, I had a blast, but I also announced my retirement after we finished. The desire to structure my weeks around a plan was completely gone. I now find myself getting in 2-3 runs per week and I’m a-okay with it. Maybe it is that the quality of my running currently is better than quantity. When I complete a trail run I feel so much more accomplished and I find myself happier after being on the trails and I couldn’t even tell you what my pace was. Because I don’t care anymore (gasp!).
Stepping away from the grind of chasing the next PR and scheduling my life around training for races has opened my eyes to how enjoyable running can be. I still get asked if I’m training for anything (because why else do you run, right?) and at first, it was weird to say that I’m not. I am actually just running for the health of it (see what I did there?). I’m now running in the woods because it makes me happy. Nothing more than that, no other expectations. Just to make myself happy. And the trees do that. I hope that anybody else who had this shift in perspective during Covid can find their reason for running again, and maybe trails are what you need.