|Ready to start a virtual race with my buddy, Dick, in August (I'm the one in yellow).
photo by Dorcey Bennett
That's as good a conclusion as any to this year's pandemic-ravaged racing season, during which recreational runners experienced a near-total loss of those eagerly anticipated competitive/friendly events that help to keep us on the road, track, or treadmill week after week.
My own season was pretty good despite all that, bookended by two LIVE races sponsored by the intrepid and hyper-organized Albany Running Exchange (ARE), with a healthy handful of virtual races sandwiched in between. Though my times were slightly behind last year's, at this age just maintaining requires more effort, so I am satisfied with having regularly broken 27 minutes for the 5K distance, including my best effort, 26:11, for a virtual race on a course in Clifton Park. I also managed 26:18 on a favorite course in Ballston Spa, where the Jailhouse Rock is regularly run, and where my running buddy, Dick, and I ran it together virtually in August (pictured above before we set out).
The dilemma now is, how to get through the winter? I've been to the YMCA a couple of times on colder days, where I ran several miles on a treadmill with an increasingly sweaty and stifling mask over my breathing holes - not fun! My hope is that the Y will begin to allow runners on its indoor track (currently, for no reason I can fathom, it is restricted to walkers). Most runners will tolerate a treadmill, but it's my understanding that it's not considered good for your gait, and I much prefer actually moving through space to trying to keep up with a machine (even if that means going in little circles above a basketball gym).
Though returning to the track doesn't take away the (obviously prudent) mask requirement, it's the way I have gotten through the last couple of winters without totally losing my conditioning, so I hope to be able to continue that trend. In the meantime, I'm grabbing whatever reasonable temperature opportunities I can to run outside. (I'm willing to exercise in cold air, but I find that below 40 degrees it hurts my lungs to breathe too deeply and, one time, I gave myself bronchitis that way, so - never again.)
Another option is to just let it go, and recover from scratch in the spring - but that prospect seems even more painful than running on a treadmill all winter, so I'm resisting it. Also, I fear the loss of the psychological boost that regular running provides, not to mention the true overall goal, which is to achieve and maintain better health (as proven in many studies, running at any pace for 10 to 20 miles a week slows the aging process).
So, with diminished goals (e.g., I think it's time to abandon hope of ever breaking 25 minutes for a 5K), I plan to go forward, grateful that I can still run when so many others cannot, and with the knowledge that one day, sooner or later, I also won't be able to do it.
In conclusion, I'd like to borrow a beautiful quote from today's Times Union Preview section, in which Kristen Garzone, of Troy, said it all to writer Tresca Weinstein: A race is the celebration of the hard work you've put in, and even though a virtual race isn't as exciting as a regular race would be, it's still something we can enjoy with our immediate family members or the other people in our pod. A lot of things have been taken away from us in this pandemic, but running is still there, and when you're running, you're untouchable.
Amen to that!