How 3 runners are finding motivation — even when the race calendar is empty

With no races on the horizon, many runners have struggled to reinvent their purpose. Here’s how they’re doing it.

This week’s essay speaks to where many of us are right now, I imagine. It’s by Amanda Loudin, who’s written widely on running, fitness and health for publications like Runner’s World, ESPN, Outside Magazine and many other publications. I’d love to know what you think/what your experience has been too! 👍 — Terrell

Like many runners, 36-year old Tiffany Underwood Holmes was looking forward to a season full of races this year.

And like many runners, Holmes has watched as a succession of races have folded due to the pandemic. With no goals in sight, the Maryland-based music director decided she needed to find a new way to motivate.

“I had just returned to running last February after having a baby when the shutdown went into effect,” says Underwood Holmes. “I didn’t really have any direction when the races began canceling, but I knew I wanted to get some structure into my running life.”

Her solution became a new running streak. Underwood Holmes is no stranger to the challenge of running at least one mile a day for months and sometimes years on end.

She had been 1,800 days into her last one when she went into labor with her baby. “During my first streak, I was pretty quiet about it, but after 36 days, I was hooked,” she says. “So I knew this would be a good way to motivate again with no races on the calendar. “

Without the streak, Underwood Holmes might have found herself struggling for motivation.

“Many runners are struggling with the lack of races, and need to find new meaning,” says certified mental performance consultant Carrie Cheadle. “These are the runners who train to race, rather than the other way around.”

The answer, says Cheadle, is to find another carrot to chase, however that may look. “It’s interesting to watch people go through the process of figuring it out,” she says. “The pandemic has made people get clearer on what running means to them.”

Getting creative — and learning to run without racing

While everyone who has lost a planned race this year finds themselves disappointed, there’s some pretty creative pivoting going on.

From running virtual races, to working on their mental game on solo runs, to exploring new trails or joining virtual communities, runners have found methods these past few months to keep the mojo going.

There’s a loosely structured “friends” track series that Baltimore-area runners have thrown together in a socially distanced manner. There are runners who have decided to let schedules go and just enjoy their runs when and however they like. Some are printing out training plans and following them, simply to have some continued direction with their sport.

Whatever it takes, runners around the country are learning to live without racing for the time being. Some, even, have found themselves enjoying their running even more in this pandemic, race-free world.

Cheadle says that if you are struggling, get out the pen and paper and start figuring out a path forward. “Be deliberate in coming up with a new goal,” she says.

If you skip this step, you’ll find yourself stuck and unable to move forward in a meaningful way, says Cheadle. “Your brain will hold onto your old goals and you’ll find yourself disappointed and unmotivated without them,” she explains.

Like Underwood Holmes, 38-year old Virginia-based Sara Brown watched helplessly as her goal races folded. “I generally run a spring and fall marathon and both of them canceled,” she says. “It was a huge de-motivator for me. I like to measure my hard work with my races.”

‘I missed the runner I used to be’

In the span of about a month, Brown went from running a normal 20 to 35 miles per week to none at all. “With all the stress of the pandemic, I figured why put myself through pain by going for a run,” she says. “It just didn’t add up for me.”

After a while, however, Brown decided to get back out there. “I missed the runner I used to be,” she says. “I borrowed an idea from a teacher—I bought some stickers and a calendar and every time I go for a run, I put a star on the day.”

Brown says that something about seeing the results of her hard work clicked, and now she’s back to a more regular routine with her running. “I’ve met myself where I am, and recognized I’m working with a different set of resources right now,” she says.

Lauren Siemers, a 40-year old speech pathologist from Illinois, took a different tact than the others. After losing her fall marathon goal of trying to BQ at the Indy Monumental, she took some time and then regrouped.

‘Eventually, it will all get back to normal. That includes running.’

“I chose to see this as an opportunity to build a really strong, consistent base for future racing,” she says.

“I started with a small goal of trying to be consistent in running five days per week for a month. When I hit that, I increased the goal to hitting specific days and mileage each week. Now I’m doing more race-specific race training and that keeps me motivated.”

The approach has worked, and Siemers says she is seeing improvement in her running. “I’m keeping up however I can and when racing does come back, I’ll be ready to knock out some seriously good races,” she says.

Clearly there’s no one-size-fits-all approach in these trying times. Says Brown: “Give yourself space and don’t compare yourself to others. Eventually, the economy will stabilize, the pandemic will end and it will all get back to normal. That includes running.”

— Amanda

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A note to subscribers on the races we recommend

If you’ve been receiving our newsletter for a while, you know each week we include a list of races we think you’ll love running. Covid-19, no doubt you also know, has disrupted plans for nearly all races that had been scheduled this year.

In some parts of the country and around the world, Covid has been brought under control (at least temporarily). In others, like where I live in Georgia, it clearly hasn’t — as we see in the cancellation of Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race and Savannah’s Rock & Roll Marathon, both of which had been scheduled for November.

There are some races still set to run through the end of this year, however. (Last weekend in Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene and Mesa Falls Marathons were run successfully in-person.)

I’d like to share as many in-person races with you as possible, because I know we’re all longing to get back to actual courses as soon as we can.

And, I want to share virtual races from organizers that were forced to cancel their in-person events, to give them some support during what we all know is a really challenging time.

So I wanted to let you know that to recommend a race, I’m looking for organizers who plan to:

  • Implement social distancing at their event

  • Offer staggered start times (e.g., over multiple days)

  • Have a zero-contact event (no aid stations)

With that said, here are this week’s races we recommend 😃

In-person races still running this fall

🏃‍♀️ Great Land Run Half Marathon in Enid, Okla. (Sept. 19)

🏃‍♀️ Trail Loppet Urban Trail Run in Minneapolis, Minn. (Sept. 19)

🏃‍♀️ Birkie Trail Run Festival Marathon, Half Marathon & Ultra in Cable, Wis. (Sept. 26-27)

🏃‍♀️ Run the Rail Half Marathon in New Boston, Texas (Oct. 10)

🏃‍♀️ Towpath Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Cleveland, Ohio (Oct. 11)

Virtual races that would love your support

🏃‍♂️ Annapolis Run For The Lighthouse Half Marathon in Annapolis, Md.

🏃‍♂️ Binghamton Bridge Run Half Marathon in Binghamton, N.Y.

🏃‍♂️ Chessie Trail Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K in Lexington, Va.

🏃‍♂️ RBC Race for the Kids/Minnesota Half Marathon in St. Paul, Minn.

🏃‍♂️ Rim to Rim Royal Gorge Half Marathon in Cañon City, Colo.

🏃‍♂️ Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in Slade, Ky.

— Terrell

A song to run to today

Nowhere To Run” from the album Dance Party by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas.

Want to hear all the songs we include in our newsletters? Listen to our full playlist on Spotify, with 8 hours, 8 minutes of music to run to.

Words to run by

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson