So, What Do We Do Now?

Races cancelled. Social distancing rules. National parks closing. What’s a trail runner to do?

Wow. A lot has changed since my last post. What started as an exciting and hopeful year has now been turned upside down.

As I’m writing this, I should be recovering from running Up the Buff, one of my favourite local races. Instead, I’m recovering from weeks of dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on our family and our business. Or is it months now? I’m losing track.

Naturally, the pandemic has also impacted my running. Up the Buff got cancelled, as did hundreds of other races around the world. And my planned 50K race for July, The Guzzler “Half Full”, has been moved to November.

My running group, the Brisbane Trail Runners, has ceased all organised group runs. I’ve been running solo for the last few weeks, and mostly on roads. Driving to trailheads far from home seems irresponsible now.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I, and my family, are among the fortunate ones. Despite all the challenges with living in a city that is under strict isolation rules, we’re not suffering the type of massive impacts as others around the world. Especially those who have tested positive for COVID-19, have died, or who are close to someone who has.

But if you’re a runner like me, you may be struggling with the impact this pandemic is having on your physical and mental health.

It’s okay to feel that struggle. It’s not a competition. Yes, other people are suffering more. But that doesn’t invalidate your own experiences. A sense of perspective is useful. But it’s not healthy to push aside your feelings just because someone else is worse off. Take the time to process what you’re feeling, find solutions, and make peace with it.

Something I remind myself is that we can’t control what happens. But we can control how we react.

So, how am I reacting?

Dealing With the Disappointment

When my two races got cancelled, my first reaction was to say “Ah, fuck it!” and buy some beer. I briefly considered cancelling my entire weekend of training plans, and just relax and play video games.

But then I realised two things.

First, being gifted several extra months of training before my 50K is a golden opportunity. I can go into the race in November fitter and more durable than I would have in July.

Second, I still need regular runs and workouts for mental health benefits, not just the physical benefits. Especially now with a big load of extra stress trying to adjust our business with the daily changes in the pandemic situation here in Australia.

So I allowed myself to be disappointed. I drank a few beers, watched a movie, had some fun with the kids. And then did my weekend training.

If you’re still processing your disappointment, whether its a cancelled race or just not being able to go running with your usual friends, try to find some positive outlets that work for you.

Adjusting My Training

My 50K is postponed, not cancelled. I can still run it, just four months later than initially planned.

So I considered whether just to keep following my training plan, hit the peak, and then do another few waves after that to maintain that peak level.

But I remembered that last year when I was at that stage of my training, it was pretty hard to sustain. I have to seriously ask myself whether I’m willing to spend several months in that mode, and all the sacrifices that would entail.

To be honest, I’m not. It’s one thing to ask my family to understand that I’ll be in peak training mode for a week or two before my taper starts. It’s a much bigger deal to ask them to put up with that for several months.

So I’m ratcheting back my training, recalculating the schedule, and will focus on other things in the meantime.

Right now I’m feeling pretty good. As long as I get enough sleep and eat well, my training runs are good, and I recover well.

But a few little niggles are creeping in. And I’ve missed some strength training in the last few weeks while work has been hectic.

So rather than pushing on with the plan, I’m going to roll it back to a base training level that consolidates my gains so far. Then I’ll focus on repairing those little problem areas and re-integrating strength training into the mix.

Nutrition Improvements

I don’t get too hung up on weight, but I know that carrying less weight on race day will be helpful. So I’ve been working on dropping a few kilograms.

About six weeks ago, I became frustrated with my stalled weight and decided to attack the problem. I spent one week meticulously tracking my intake using MyFitnessPal. I found a few little tweaks, mostly in the area of carb intake, and my weight started dropping again.

All good, until the world fell apart over COVID-19. As I wrote earlier, I drank a few beers to relax after all the cancellations and the first rounds of restrictions hit. And we’ve had a few since. Our street enjoys a driveway drink and chat now and then. More so now that people are feeling a bit of cabin fever.

So things stalled again, as you’d expect. But no harm is done. I am taking this opportunity with training not ramping up (and therefore not making me hungry after long runs) to get the scales trending downward again.

Reading More

I queued up a bunch of running books on my Kindle a short while back, but I haven’t started reading them yet. To be honest, I’m pushing to get through book 3 of the Game of Thrones series, and it’s a bit of a struggle at the moment. The story is good, but focusing on elaborate fiction in these troubled times is not easy for me. I need something a little easier on the mind.

It’s tempting at the moment to spend evenings refreshing Twitter and reading the latest hot takes on Reddit for the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s neither good for my mental health, nor does it help me get more productive reading done.

And now is the perfect time to get in some extra reading about trail and ultrarunning, because I will have time to implement some of it as I train for my November race.

So, I’ve adjusted my COVID-19 intake schedule. I check the news first thing in the morning for any significant events overnight. If there’s none, I stay away from it until I get to the office. There I read any latest government announcements, and consider how they impact our business and our staff. Then I get on with my day. I check the news one more time before I leave the office, and if there’s nothing new that concerns me, I switch off from as much news and social media as possible for the rest of the evening.

Staying away from the stress of 24/7 news frees up a lot of time and mental energy to dive back into reading. Here’s what I have to read next:

Writing this Blog

When I started Life at 50K, which I’ve now merged into this personal blog, I was looking forward to documenting a solid year of training and racing. With my race plans derailed, I’ve been thinking about what to blog about instead. It’s not like I’ll be out on the trails taking beautiful photos every weekend and having the type of training chats that inspire new blog content.

So I need to rethink my approach. I’m turning my mind back to the beginning of my trail running journey. Everything I learned these past few years, I can write about here.

Aside from that, writing is a good outlet for me. It helps me relax, and I always feel better after publishing a new blog post that has been rattling around in my head.

Let’s Stay in Touch

Building a connection with others in the trail running community is part of the reason that I started this blog. There are so many different ways that people like to keep up with blogs these days. If you’re not into RSS feeds then you can follow me on Instagram.

Hope to see you online, one day, out on the trails again!

By Paul Cunningham

Paul is a writer and entrepreneur living in Brisbane, Australia. He enjoys spending time with his family and running in the mountains. Paul was the founder of Practical 365, a former Microsoft MVP, and Pluralsight trainer. Paul is also on Twitter and Instagram.