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Your Race Was Cancelled? Don’t Let It Stop You From Running

By Dylan Roche

Runners all across the country and even around the world have been hearing some variation of the same message for the past few weeks: your race has been cancelled. And even though everybody understands why, it doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compromised many aspects of life, and in the grand scheme of things — when many people are seriously ill and many others are out of work — finding out a race you’ve been training for is cancelled is hardly the end of the world. Still, if you’ve been training hard, it’s practically impossible not to feel let down when you think about how you’re not going to be able to meet the goal you’ve set for yourself. At least, not for a few more months.

But here’s the thing: Even though so many aspects of life have changed, and even though you no longer have a competition you’re training for, it doesn’t mean you have to stop running. More importantly, it can’t take away what you’ve already accomplished.

In fact, during this time of uncertainty, anxiety, and isolation, getting out and going for a run might be one of the best activities you can do. Many state and local governments are enforcing stay-at-home orders, closing down all but essential businesses and restricting social gatherings of any kinds. But even states where these orders are being enforced, including California, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, people are still allowed — and in some cases, encouraged — to go outside for fresh air and physical activity as long as they maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves and others.

Author Dylan Roche Running in a race near Annapolis, Maryland

The World Health Organization (WHO) even recommends maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, to help you deal with the emotional stress that people are feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic. And when so much about the world has changed, keeping up a consistent running routine can bring some regularity to an otherwise unpredictable time of life. Just be sure you’re going out by yourself and not engaging in group runs, which go against the concept of social distancing we all are being encouraged to follow.

I totally get it — I’m a runner myself, so I know what running represents to me. I’ve been running for about 15 years now, ever since college, and I average about 100 miles a week. Running helps me escape from the stress of daily life for a few hours, and it gives me daily affirmation of my capabilities — if I’m able to tackle mile after mile by simply putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to breathe, what’s to say that I can’t conquer anything in life?

There’s a quote you might have heard from renowned runner Susan Sidoriak: “I dare you to train for a marathon and not have it change your life.” And we all know how true that is. When you train for a race, you take charge of your health in ways you haven’t before. But more importantly, you discover a strength and determination and willpower that you didn’t know you had.

No matter how many races get cancelled or postponed, they can’t cancel the strength or self-confidence you’ve gained in the past few weeks or months you have spent training for them.

One of the reasons I avoided races for so long was that I always saw running as something I do for myself. It has never been about competition or glory. I did a handful of races here and there when the opportunity felt right, but they were never very important to me. It wasn’t until the latter half of 2019, after I left my full-time job to pursue being a freelance writer, that I started entering races so I could prove to myself what I was capable of doing. I even ran two marathons in one weekend (the Baltimore marathon on Saturday and the Atlantic City marathon on Sunday) because, frankly, I just wanted to feel like a total badass.

Dylan Roche after running the Atlantic City Marathon
Dylan Roche running the Baltimore Running Festival

I made a resolution that in 2020 I wanted to run at least 10 different races in at least five different states. It was a goal that I hoped would challenge me and expose me to new experiences that I wouldn’t have if I stayed safe inside my comfort zone.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Three days before my first marathon of the season, the race was cancelled. Slowly but surely, the others cancelled as well.

And after some reflection, I realized I didn’t mind so much. Running still has power whether it’s part of a formal race or not. And on the day I was supposed to run my marathon, I actually went out and ran 26.2 miles by myself (I actually overshot and did 26.8 miles). Why such craziness? Well, because I had set a goal and I wanted to attain it.

Training isn’t about getting a medal or a T-shirt or even a banana at the finish line. Sure, all of those are great (especially that banana), but really, training is about improving yourself. And nobody can take that away from you.

My advice for the runners out there is to count your blessings. Thank the race directors for their hard work (you know they’re just as disappointed that their event has to be cancelled), be grateful for your health, and keep running. Don’t give up on your training, as running could be what helps carry you through this tumultuous period of life. Just make sure — and I can’t stress this enough — you avoid group runs and keep 6 feet of distance between you and other runners.

Push yourself. Challenge yourself. Be proud of yourself. Sure, having a big race on the calendar might have motivated you, but there will be plenty of races in your future. For right now, you are training so you can get through the COVID-19 pandemic with a positive attitude and some semblance of structure in your life. And there’s no telling what you’ll learn about yourself in the process.

Dylan Roche is an Annapolis-based writer and marathon runner. As a journalist focused on everything from fitness to arts and culture, he has written for a variety of publications, including Livestrong, What’s Up Annapolis, OurHealth Virginia, UpstART and Chesapeake Family Life. His first novel, “The Purple Bird,” came out in 2019. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @DylanIsWriting