Let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s not that easy to roll out of bed and into that morning run. Training for a race or event can be the carrot that gets us out the door, especially if we’re shooting for a personal record, a fundraising goal, or the jolt of adrenaline that comes from lining up with hundreds or thousands of others for an early morning start, or the post-race camaraderie over a cold beer.
This year, that kind of motivation may seem harder to come by, but it can be found. Along with our bodies, we can train our brains to stay in the race. And yes, that’s still possible even when those races are of the virtual sort.
“This is a true test these days of our intrinsic motivation, perseverance, and commitment,” says Juliet Kuehnle, a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. “It can be super easy to let a workout go or cut off a few miles because there’s no accountability, or a workout or race can feel heavier and harder because it’s being done alone.” Kuehnle agrees the connection with others is often one an essential part of training and exercising.
Kuehnle encourages people struggling with the pandemic and its isolation to keep going and stay active. And yes, a virtual event can indeed serve as a worthy goal. “Exercise is one of the main things I encourage clients to do to maintain structure and to improve mental health,” says Kuehnle.
Here’s how to reframe your attitude toward training and racing in our current environment:
First, frame your goals. Why did I start running in the first place? Health? Fitness? Weight loss? Friends? Kuehnle says you still can — and should — use these motivators. The path to them might just look a little different. Then focus on little things you may have ignored before.
“Paying closer attention to how your body moves, setting PR challenges for yourself, and turn it into a game that can even be rewarded,” are a few ways, says Kuehnle. And you can still seek accountability with friends or virtual races. The latter is gaining traction for runners who want to celebrate a goal or even just a finish.
“I think in the very beginning no one wanted to do virtual, then they did,” says Justin Ratike of Sisu Events, an event and marketing firm that organizes races. More people are gravitating to running — and virtual races — because gyms are closed and people are outside walking, running, and cycling more, says Ratike. Right now, he says virtual races have some advantages in this current environment.
“People can run virtual challenges because they can do it when they want — any time during the day or at night,” he laughs. Good point. And even though runners shied away from virtual races at first, Ratike still got HUGE participation for the COVID-19 Miler, which was launched March 13th, the day schools closed in North Carolina. The virtual race asked runners to log 19 miles in a week, or 2.7 miles a day for seven days, to raise money for PPE for healthcare personnel.
“That race went crazy!” says Ratike. “It was the largest race in the country.” The virtual race made national news with more than 3,700 signups from across the US, as well as Japan and England. It raised $58,000 for the nonprofit CLTgivePPE. “It was super fun and really caught on!” A second COVID-19 Miler that wrapped up August 19 drew raised money for Feeding America and Direct Relief.
“I’ve always believed there are three parts of this running experience that bring people to an event,” said Tim Rhodes, Race Director for the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon. “It’s the competition, the shared community, or the cause.”
Put them all together and you’ll easily find the motivation to continue training. Find a virtual race that speaks to you, a nonprofit to support, a new distance, or a different challenge— and set goals. Invite friends, create a friendly competition, log your workouts on a sharable app to hold each other accountable. Make it work for you!
This year’s Novant Health Charlotte Marathon events will be virtual, so you can challenge yourself or your friends to a marathon, half marathon, relay, 5k, or 1-miler— and help raise money for the Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital. Rhodes says runner input will be invaluable as he and his team prepare for the November 2020 events. (Got ideas to improve the virtual run experience? Share them with email@example.com!)
“You can have a group chat where you send encouraging memes and report back when you’ve completed a run,” says Kuehnle. Be flexible, allow yourself some grace, and don’t get caught up comparing yourself to others in a self-defeating way. And don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done! “Make sure to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how ‘small!’ Kuehnle reminds us.
The bottom line? It may look and feel a little different for now, but you can still find the competition, the community, and the cause in a virtual event.