The mental approach that's helping Carissa run through the pandemic

Plus 4 virtual races + running challenges you might love running (depending on how adventurous you are!)

Editor’s note: This week’s essay is by Carissa Liebowitz, a longtime friend of (and writer for) The Half Marathoner who’s also a highly accomplished marathoner and ultra runner, with several Boston Marathons under her belt. She brings a thoughtful, soulful approach to running that I always learn a lot from, and I think you will to. — Terrell

It’s hard to know what lies on the other side of all “this.” We don’t know yet if life will return to normal quickly, if the virus will continue to upend lives at a steady rate, or if there will be a series of ups and downs to follow.

The only thing we can control is our own actions and reactions. And realize that we have no control over the course of what will happen in the next month, 6 months, or beyond.

But running itself is kind of like that. In a perfect world, we would be at the top of our game all the time. We’d be PR machines, racing each training run a little faster, crossing finish lines sooner. There would be no seasons to our running, just go-go-go all the time.

There is an ebb and flow to every runner’s story. Some might experience wilder highs and lows, but as runners, we know what it’s like to have off weeks, months, or even years. I’m not worried about getting back to where I was, but instead, I’m choosing to think about where I am and where I’m going to be. 

‘I’m not worried about getting back to where I was, but instead, I’m choosing to think about where I am and where I’m going to be.’ 

I’m a serial racer, so it feels strange to not have a race on the calendar that feels like a sure bet. There are a lot of things piling up in the fall as races have been postponed, but who knows if they will even happen. I’m trying to look at it in a positive way.

This means that I can just get back to the joy of running in its purest form. Getting out the door to move my body, get a little fresh air, and lift my endorphins. 

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m working on the things that I have typically struggled with in the past. Running my easy runs easy. Running in places that are challenging (I’m looking at you, hilly concrete sidewalks!). Doing speed work not on the track or treadmill. 

In a regular week, I usually do all of weekday runs solo so this was not a struggle for me once we were advised to practice social distancing.

However, I liked having the option of heading to my local running paths to avoid car traffic and undulating terrain near my house. I plan to slowly add back these paths into my routine as we return to normalcy, but I’m likely to err on the side of conservative.

The biggest disruption for me has been the weekend runs. I typically run with others on both Saturday and Sunday and it truly has been one of the best ways to make and kindle friendships in my adult life.

I long for the days of running for hours in the mountains on Saturdays with my gang of misfits. And I look forward to the time that I can return to easy miles with one of my longest running friends on Sunday mornings. 

Unfortunately, injury has taught me best how to weather this storm. To appreciate the smallest victories in running. I might be frustrated that I’m limited to where I run and who I run with, but at least I can run.

I’m not tuning up for any big races in the upcoming months so getting back to the basics feels good. Sure, it always feels good to promote our medals and finish line photos, but somewhere along the way, we also know it’s just a privilege to be able to run. 

As is the case of most lifelong runners, I have dealt with injury and when you are in the throngs of it, the end is often hard to see. You don’t know if and when you’ll get back to where you once were and the uncertainty of the future weighs heavily.

‘Unfortunately, injury has taught me best how to weather this storm — to appreciate the smallest victories’

Each week of not running feels like an eternity. Back in 2018, I was out for eight weeks with a stress fracture and I remember time just crept by while I sat on the running sidelines. Looking back, it really was just a small span of time over the years of running I’ve enjoyed. 

The virus feels very similar. We know things will eventually move forward, but we’re not exactly sure what it’s going to look like on the other side. There will be the in between time that feels somewhat normal, but isn’t quite right. And then, like with a running injury, you will have that day that you will sigh with a sense of relief because all finally feels right with the world again. 

As things start to open up across my own community, I anticipate I’ll be cautious about my own return to normalcy. I’ve proven that I can continue some sense of normalcy in my training and if I need to wait a few more weeks to feel safe, so be it.

The mountains will be there. The flat, traffic-free spaces will be there. Just like coming off of injury, my training can and will ramp up as well. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing and as race plans become more solid, I anticipate training will be exciting again.

It feels like it’s been a really long time because we humans are so averse to change, but hopefully, if we’re one of the lucky ones, just another small piece of our running story. 

— Carissa

Virtual races you (might!) love

Run the Vineyards Mother’s Day 5K. In most years, this is a race that includes a half marathon through the hills and vineyards of Blue Cork Winery in Williamstown, N.J. This year, of course, it will be virtual-only event that takes place over Mother’s Day weekend, and you’ll receive a souvenir wine glass + race technical shirt.

lululemon SeaWheeze Virtual Half Marathon. This one is the virtual version of an annual Vancouver, British Columbia-based half, and you’ll get a 14-week training plan as well as a trophy badge on Strava when you register. Record your run anytime between August 15-23, and you’ll receive a finisher’s medal in the mail.

Vertual Challenge. Definitely a different kind of challenge, this race will test your ability climb — as high as you can. Between May 11-17, run as much vertical elevation change up as you can on trails or roads, even on a treadmill if you like. Everyone who participates gets a 19% discount to another Steep Endurance event later in 2020, with bigger discounts the more vertical climb you achieve.

Lucky 13 Endurance Challenge. You choose a distance to run each day — 13.1 miles, or 13K, or 1.3 miles — as well as a total vertical challenge, from 13,000 feet to 1,300 feet over 13 days. Run them from anywhere in the world, and even run 13 different courses if you like.

Great running reads

The Man Who Runs 365 Marathons a Year. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a story about a someone more fanatical in pursuing their goals than Michael Shuttuck, who last year averaged around 250 miles of running every week. This long profile is a deep dive inside what drives him to keep going (which includes demons you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy).

“People are capable of way more than they think they are... Running can do almost everything for you. I’m doing this because I want people to know that they can do more. I want them to want to do more.”

The ‘War on Runners’ Is Getting Hot and Sweaty. A tongue-in-cheek take on the swelling number of exercisers who have been taking to the streets in many cities while we’ve all been under quarantine. Who can’t relate to why “the Big Walk is usually the highlight of the day, right up there with the 4:59 p.m. bourbon”?

“Runners aren’t looking for confrontations. They’re runners! Not wrestlers! They’re just trying to finish their runs, so they can get home and eat half a pint of ice cream and not feel horrible about themselves.”

How Is the Pandemic Affecting Races? Hollie Sick, who writes for us frequently, interviews three race directors who manage smaller event series in the Northeast, and gets their viewpoint on what they all agree is a make-or-break time for many in the business.

“I believe that we will get through this. The running community is strong... I think more people, more families, are getting out and running and walking. I hope that this will help create another running boom.”

Run 100 Miles, 100 Times, in 100 Weeks. Now in a Brooklyn Apartment. Since the fall of 2018, Michael Ortiz has been focused on what would seem to most an impossible goal: finishing 100 runs of 100 miles each in 100 weeks. When the extent of the global pandemic became apparent, he refused to let it get in his way.

“It’s completely out of the normal universe of what ultrarunners do... It’s like going from Magellan to the astronauts.”

Do I Need to Wear a Mask While Running? The actual guidance on whether runners should wear face masks while exercising varies greatly by where you live in the country. This article offers helpful, useful suggestions on when and where to wear one (and when not to).

“The purpose of the mask isn’t to protect you from catching the virus, it’s to prevent the aerosols coming out of your nose and mouth from being projected at other people.”

Is running booming where you are?

Jack Coyne, a New Yorker and YouTube video creator, has (like many of us!) found himself running much more often than he used to, thanks to empty city streets and little else to do while on quarantine. In this video, he talks with people around the world who are finding the same thing, and the results are fascinating.

What are you finding/experiencing?

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