Running in the time of COVID-19

Running in the time of COVID-19

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”

Baz Luhrmann

On March11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19, a novel coronavirus with origins in Wuhan, China, a global pandemic. Since then, nothing has been the same. Around the world schools closed, non-essential businesses shuttered and everyone was told to stay indoors. People were no longer allowed to gather in groups. Words like “socially distant” and “social isolation” became part of our vernacular. Fear over what would happen next was palpable.

From where I sit, almost five months later, we’re now entering Phase 3 of reopening Ontario. I’m back to working in my office and my kids are scheduled to return to school in September, albeit in a very different environment: my son will be attending college online, while my daughter will be wearing a mask and following a whole new series of protocols. Social distancing is the norm and life is definitely not back to normal. It’s clear that COVID-19 has been devastating to a host of industries: tourism and the arts come to mind, really anything that depends on visitors. And that includes running races.

2020 was shaping up to be a stellar race year, including my first road marathon in Halifax, two trail marathons, a 25km night run, a 30km at Bon Echo Provincial Park, a place I hold close to my heart, and my first 50km. One by one, each race was cancelled. And this was happening globally. Even the Boston Marathon was cancelled: the first time in its 124-year history.

Runners take on gruelling training blocks to prepare for goal races such as Boston. So when these “goals” disappear overnight, many are left wondering, “What now?” Social media screamed with runners devastated at their loss and how their training “went to waste.” There was much uncertainty over how long the pandemic would last (there will is) and planning for the future became impossible. Many runners lost motivation.

I’m a solid middle-of-the-pack runner, and I put my focus into competing against myself rather than anyone else. Races are a great way to test fitness and focus my training, but they’re also just a lot of fun, especially trail races. (S’mores and quesidillas for an aid station, yes please!)

But still I wondered, what now?

Here are four things that kept me running in this strange uncertain time:

1.) Reconnect with your why: The pandemic helped me realize that the benefits of running was much more than race swag and bling (though those are pretty fun): running was (and is) a way for me to process the emotion and stress of the rest of my life, it’s a way for me to learn about strength, resilience and goal setting, and lessons learned while I’m training help give me perspective that serves just about anywhere. Running is a part of my self-care routine: when I’m training I make sure I eat better and sleep better. It keeps my mind in check and my heart open. And it’s a way for me to explore the world in intimate and immediate ways. Maybe running is a way to help you lose weight. Maybe it helps you keep up with your kids. Whatever your personal why, connecting with that helps with motivation, whether there’s a pandemic or not.

2.) Run virtually: Race directors, who have a big enough (and often under appreciated) job during “normal” times were faced with “what now” after in-person races were cancelled. Some deferred races until next year. (And who even knows what next year will look like.) Many found ways to “pivot” their races to a virtual format: run a socially distance race on a “course” of your choosing, register your time and get your merch/bib/bling. I admit that virtual racing isn’t the same as racing IRL, but it is a way to support RDs and ensure there will be races in 2021. It’s also great for community building: finding a way to run #AloneTogether.

3.) Set a big goal for yourself: Running can be as equal a mental challenge as it is a physical one, and setting a big goal – one that’ll ask you to dig deep yet can be achieved – is a powerful way to fuel motivation. My first “goal” race was Going the Social Distance, hosted by Happy Trails Racing: you pick your monthly goal, in 50km increments and get out there and run. At the end, you get a sticker (things runners will do for merch) and an incredible sense of achievement. Over 3,000 runners worldwide participated. Then there was the Midwest States 100: run 100km (or 100 miles) in 10 days or less. I finished in 28th out of 273 people with a total time of 9:23:22. I have no illusions that I “ran 100km race” but dedicating myself to that goal rather than worry about things I couldn’t change helped keep fear a bay. Perhaps the biggest virtual event during the time of COVID-19 is the wildly popular Great Virtual Races Across Tennessee, hosted by Gary Cantrell, aka Lazarus Lake, race director of the infamous Barkley Marathons. In April, Laz announced a virtual race where participants would run virtually across Tennessee – 1021.68 km – between May 1 and August 31, 2020. Finishers get a T-shirt and either a belt buckle or medal. He expected 200 runners: over 19,000 from 78 countries are registered. I’m one of them: 700km down, 300 km to go. Stay tuned for my report from the finish line.

4.) Ground yourself in gratitude for what you do have and put your time and energy into the things that fuel you: OK, this is good advice for living a good life, not just running. Early in the pandemic when all the trails were closed, I realized that restrictions on shopping (even for groceries) were far less a loss than not having access to nature. Recognizing and grieving those closures made me appreciate the experience even more once trails reopened. Since then I have made time every weekend to spend time in nature and explored new trails.

We are living in a momentous time in history. There is a lot of talk about a “second wave” and uncertainty about how (and when) this pandemic will end. But it will end. In the meantime, life under a pandemic is marathon, not a sprint, and finding ways to keep you moving when the world seems to have come to a standstill will serve you long past the time of social isolation.

Tips for hot weather running

Tips for hot weather running

Watching footage from the Badwater-135 is a good lesson in hot weather running. Billed the “The World’s Toughest Foot Race” * it covers 135 miles (or 217 km) non-stop from Death Valley (the lowest elevation in North America at 85 metre below sea level) to Mt. Whitney, CA, at an elevation of 2,530 m, Oh, and it takes place mid-summer in sweltering desert heat. In 2018, temperatures climbed as high as 127F (53C), with the asphalt road getting even hotter (reportedly reaching 200F degrees), causing the road to melt shoes and burn runners’ feet.

The medical risks of competing in such conditions is real: heat illness and heat stroke can be serious, and can cause renal shutdown, brain damage and even death. Symptoms of impending heat illness include nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, faintness, irritability, lassitude, weakness, and rapid heart rate, and a decrease in sweating and goose bumps, especially over the chest, may be a sign of impending heat stroke. Heat stroke may progress from minimal symptoms to complete collapse in a very short period of time. Conditioning for this kind of abuse, err, racing is critical.

Dr Ben Jones, three time finisher writes about heat training and conditioning for the Badwater and includes the simple advice: “Try to spend as much time above 100 degrees F as possible.”  Uh huh. Not in Canada, sir.

He also suggests starting slowing and working your way up to longer exposures, as well as turn off the AC, wear dark clothes while outside, exercise in a sauna, and even turn on the heat while travelling in a car – anything to get your skin, stomach, bladder and heart used to functioning under brutal conditions.

While I have some big ultra goals, training for a running Badwater-135 is not one of them.

That said, after running a half-marathon last September in scorching temperatures above 30C, I appreciate the importance of hot weather training.

Recovering after the Run for the Grapes half in 2019: a scorcher!

During the first heat wave of the year I took to Instagram for some hot weather training tips, and these are my favs:

  • Wet your hair and/or top and/or buff/hat in cold water before heading out. When it’s really hot wear a buff around your neck and pack ice in it
  • Embrace the 5 am run? It’s much cooler then
  • Freeze your bladder or water bottle – cool sips help!
  • Find neighbourhood lawn sprinklers/streams/water fountains for some midrun cooldown
  • Slow your roll – don’t expect the same paces as more temperate runs
  • Take breaks. Enjoy the process.
  • Don’t spend too much in AC at low temps – it’s a huge shock to go from cool house to hot run. (“Luckily” I don’t have AC!)
  • Check your mindset, especially during a race. If you think it’s going to suck, it will. If you think you’re a badass for running when it’s hotter than the sun, you’ll do (and feel) better.
  • Put ice in your sports bra! (Love this)
  • Keep on top of hydration. If you wait to drink when you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Electrolytes and/or salt help too.
  • Keep at it. Your body will get used to it.

It can be challenging to get to used to hot weather running early in the summer, but over time the body does acclimate. And if you keep at it, you’ll feel extra fast when fall race season starts! #SummerPainsForFallGains

What hot weather running tips work for you? Share in the comments below!

And check out this article from Runner’s World on the link between Hydration, fitness levels and heat illness: “As any runner who’s struggled through the heat knows, the temperature can be tough on performance. But a recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health highlights it’s not just the sweltering humidity or heat index that’s the real issue. Hydration and fitness levels can be key factors for reducing heat-related illness risk, too.” Full article here.

* The Marathon des Sables, a six-day 251 km ultra across the Sahara claims the same fame, as does a dozen other gruelling races. They’re all tough. Enough said.

Benefits to running alone

Benefits to running alone

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, people were ordered to “shelter-in-place” and “physically distance” themselves from everyone not in their immediate family circle. 

Social media lit up with runners bemoaning the loss of their running groups and training partners.

Me? Nothing changed.

I run alone. 

As I’ve built more running community through social media and racing, I’ve learned first-hand the benefits of running in groups: long runs feel easier when I’m distracted by running with friends, and well, they’re just a lot of fun. But I live in a small village and there are no people to run with. So if I want to train a lot, I run alone.

Some runners, especially women, say they’re scared to run alone. But I find the benefits outweigh any of the risks. Here are just a few:


I work full-time and juggle two teenage kids on my own. That means I’m often stealing hours to get my runs in. This kind of unpredictability makes scheduling time with others challenging, and so I’ve learned to embrace the spontaneity. If I wake up early and want to catch the sunset before work, great! Off I go. If it’s 9:30 pm and I still have 12km to run, then I strap on my Noxgear and get my miles in. Or if I find a pocket of time on a Saturday morning, I can also decide last minute to jump in the car and drive an hour to the trailhead.


I’ve heard a lot of runners talk about how hard it is to motivate themselves to get out the door without their training partner or group, but running solo means I’m responsible for my own motivation, that that’s built some strong mental grit. I can look back on my training plans and say, “I did that. I ran all those miles because I set a big goal for myself.” And if I don’t get myself out the door, I have only myself to call out. It’s no one else’s responsibility but my own, and that makes for satisfying and sustainable training.


When I run on my own, it’s just me and my footfalls. This gives me the space and time to pay attention to how it feels. Where do I feel tightness? How is my breathing? Am I bunching my toes? What can I do I release holding?

I’m also more present to my surroundings and the sheer joy – and privilege – of running.


“Do you want to run faster? Then you need to slow down.” That’s the opening sentence of Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower, that builds on the idea that the secret to running faster is to run slow most of the time. Intensity, or how hard you’re running relative to how hard you’re capable of running, can be classified into three general zones: low, moderate and high; low is around that point where you have to start breathing harder or can no longer carry on a conversation. Studies have shown that runners of all abilities and experience levels improve most when they do approximately 80% of their training at low intensity and 20% at moderate and high intensity. 

The point of this? When I run with a group, I typically adjust my paces to stay in the group. When I run on my own I can keep my own pace. And that makes for more productive training.

You might train with a group, and race with hundreds or thousands more, but running is ultimately a solo endeavour. It comes down to your own set of feet, and putting one in front of the other. Embrace it.

Want more? 

* Running coach Amanda Brooks of “Run to the Finish” has a great blog entry on “9 Powerful Benefits of Running Alone”

* Alex Nichols of has a article on “The Benefits of Training Alone” that has more on the science of 80/20 running

Balancing life and training

Balancing life and training

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

Albert Einstein

Last week my partner and I decided to go visit Presqui’le Provincial Park in Brighton, Ont. He hadn’t been there in years, and the last time I was there was in February for a rather uninspiring (read: gruelling) long run. We’d start at the lighthouse on the southern point and I’d run north and meet him at the gatehouse.

I set off on interior the road through the park. It’s well-kept (no gravel or back-country potholes), one-way and with little traffic. About one kilometre in to a 10km run I saw a trailhead and took a detour. Trails trump roads every time.

It was an easy day of training – a low intensity run (and mileage towards my Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee). The wind had been raging, the water rolling when I’d left the lighthouse, and now it was pouring. I loved it. The colours and smells of the woods seemed more vibrant, more alive and all my senses were dialled into the simple joy of being alive. Running does that.

About 7km from the gatehouse the weather passed and I texted my partner to say, “Why don’t we meet at the beach and check it out?”

“Already there,” he said.

I took the turn off the main road, ran through the parking lot and then followed an accessible mat to the beach. Looking left and right there was sand almost as far as I could see. We had the place to ourselves, save for some shorebirds. I made my way down to the edge of the water and came to the place where the waves kissed the shore.

“Why don’t you take your shoes off? The water is amazing,” he said.

“I can’t. I still have 2km left to run.”

It took about 2 minutes of watching the moody clouds dance across the sky, the waves crashing against the shore and the silly birds side-stepping through the churn for me to give my head a shake and realize, this is an amazing moment – be here now. I can make up the 2km later.

Dedication to big running goals is important, critical even, especially when training for long distances. But running is a part of my life: it isn’t my life.

“Although there are certainly many things to learn about training and racing from the professionals, it’s a mistake to attempt to emulate a professional approach at the amateur level, especially within the context of a busy life,” says Matt Dixon, author of Fast-Track Triathlete. “Professional triathletes [I’d argue this refers to runners as well] train many more hours every week than you can, and they can put more time, effort, and resources toward training and recovery because triathlon is essentially their full-time job.”

Big goals require big commitment, but unless you’re an elite level athlete, other priorities, such as work and family, need to be factored into the training plan. There may be consequences to missing a workout, but there are also consequences to always choosing the training. What are the tradeoffs you are willing to live with? If you always skips a workout, maybe you need to adjust your training plan because your goals have changed. But if you’re always saying “no, I have to train” just be conscious of what else you might be missing.

It’s easy to feel the pressure to keep up (and get those virtual high fives) when there are so many ways to share runs and training on Instagram, Garmin, Strava, or Facebook. But comparing your training to anyone else’s is a recipe for injury or burnout – and sometimes you just need to take your shoes off and play in the waves.

Want more?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach Valerie Worthington wrote a great article called “Having it all: How to Cram Training, Working and Life into Every Day