Fall Races are Virtual – Now What?

By Kate Busch

As runners and athletes (if you run, you are a runner and an athlete- pace and distance are irrelevant), we are resilient. Spring and fall racing seasons come around, and we switch gears. We are focused, determined, and committed to achieving our goals, in addition to all the other family/friends/work commitments we have going on. We make it happen. If you are like me, you have an idea at the beginning of the year of your potential race plans, goals, and training strategies to make it all happen.

Like many others, I started the year registered for spring races that slowly were postponed then went virtual. I shifted my perspective on what the spring running season meant for me, and it was challenging, but I accepted the reality and tried to make the most of it. I also had in the back of my head… well, there is always the IMT Des Moines Marathon at the end of October. And now that the IMT Des Moines Marathon Weekend is officially virtual, I am asking myself some questions: What is my running and racing plan? Is it smart to still do intense marathon training, even if the race is virtual? Should I have my same time goal, or should I adjust expectations? And the most important question: Will it be any fun?

As runners and athletes, we want to make progress. Progress looks different for each one of us. And while the Des Moines Marathon Weekend may be virtual, we can find purpose in our training. Progress comes from experience, practice, and commitment; these are not “canceled” this fall.

So, let’s talk about how we can refine our practice, create experiences, and tap into our deepest commitment in the months of training ahead.

Refine Our Practice

Take advantage of easing the pressure of time goals, PR’s, BQ’s, NYC Qualifiers, and all the other outcome specific goals and try something new with our training (who knows, it may lead to even bigger and better goals in the future).

  • Increase strength training and cut back a few miles to see how your body responds
  • Play safely with increasing mileage if you are curious about a higher mileage impact on your running. Keyword- safely.
  • Switch things up and add in more cross-training- cycling, swimming, etc. and see how these various cardio activities impact your fitness and training.
  • Focus on speed. To become stronger at the marathon requires becoming stronger at the half-marathon and so forth. Cut back to a shorter distance and train to develop your speed and take that forward into your next training cycle.
  • Dial into your nutritional needs and play a little more with your diet and fueling to see how your body responds. I usually stick to what is safe to accomplish my goals, but I may be limiting myself to finding something that works even better.
  • Honestly, reflect on previous race days, and what has been your challenge? Is it physical strength to endure, mental stamina to stay in the hard part of the race, imbalances when running that lead to aches and pains? Be intentional about your training and work on all the small pieces that lead to a successful race day.

These specific practices can help us learn more about our bodies and develop us mentally and physically into stronger runners.

Create Experiences

Use this opportunity where races and training look different to get creative about finding meaning in the experience of training and racing.

  • Establish a date and start time for your race with other friends locally or wherever they may be. FaceTime at the “start line” and establish a post-race virtual celebration.
  • Tune in to various challenges that are taking place on social media, Strava, and other platforms to feel as you have accountability beyond yourself
  • Express to your family and friends what their support can look like for you in your training and goals, as well as what their support means to you
  • Include family/friends in the training process: whether it’s a cheer/nutrition squad on a long run (they will be pros and ready to help support you on race day), biking alongside you while you run, engaging in strength work/cross-training together.
  • Take the run to the trails. Trail running is a whole different workout and environment than on the road. Who knows, maybe you will even want to tackle your race as a trail race.
  • Plan an inspiring racecourse. We don’t usually have control over what the racecourse looks like, so be intentional about planning your course. Think about favorite neighborhoods, parks, friends/family homes (aka. Cheer stations), trails, views, a hilly route, or all the way flat. You are in control, so create your “dream route.”
Deepen Commitment

Our commitment to running and ourselves is always tested during training. Running connects our greater community and us. How can we build a commitment to use our running to impact ourselves and our community positively?

  • What is your why? Really, why do you run and train for races? Get in touch with this feeling as sometimes it can get muddled when we are in the thick of it.
  • Think about whether a “time” goal makes sense for you this fall. Completing any distance, regardless of your time, is always an amazing accomplishment. Be proud of yourself no matter what
  • Create process goals that give meaning and purpose throughout your training and not just when you cross the finish line.
  • Deepen the mind-body connection and plan to train and race without music/podcasts. (One of my best marathon memories is a race I ran without music; try it.)
  • Ditch the technology. We always hear about running by feel, but we all want the feedback on race day. Use this as a chance to ditch the watch and rely on yourself entirely for pacing and friend/family to be your stopwatch.
  • Be intentional about pre-run warm-up and cool-downs, foam rolling, yoga, etc. (all the things we know we should do) and complete training staying injury-free
  • Explore your community’s needs or find a cause you feel passionately about and run in that honor. Whether it is bringing awareness or bringing dollars, blending our running with creating a better community is powerful.
  • Have the goal to find joy in your running, training, and race day. This is why we run and race, right?

We have a chance to refine our practice, create meaningful experiences, and deepen our commitment to running, which will always lead us to become stronger runners. We can continue to prove that we are a resilient community of runners, and we are committed to getting the most out of ourselves, regardless of where and how the start and finish lines look on our race day.

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