Endurance In The Time of COVID

A wonderful thing about ultra-distance running (and racing in particular) is that it brings people together for a brief moment in time; these people that traditionally spend north of 90% of their entire running lives alone. Running and training is a fairly selfish, individual pursuit which requires a certain amount of comfort with isolation. It is this very isolation that makes race day so invigorating; a moment in time to create community – a bond that is stronger than all of the time spent alone. A joy forged by shared experience – not just together – but in the toil to arrive at the starting line. I am still in connection with friends made from races several years ago even though the time together can be measured in hours.

As we arrive in our new socially distanced world, it is a world that doesn’t look too unfamiliar to the runner. It is a quiet day that starts early and the streets empty. Nature, as before, continues to held in the highest esteem. What we lose on now is the release; the loosening of the pressure gauge for the steam that is slowly building over time. For the longest of runs and the most isolated of runners still need release. Introverts sometimes know who they are by experiencing the exhaustion of connection before they retreat back into their comfort zone.

It’s not all bad news though. Endurance training prepares one for any hardship not just for running 12 hours in the woods. All I have to do is remember the lessons learned through blood, sweat, toil and time. These lessons may prove to be the most effective set of tools I have to weather the months ahead.

Disclaimer: we are the fortunate ones. For the most part, the people we know are healthy and safe. My family has jobs that have a history of remote working and my technical skills suddenly seem even more relevant than they did before. And while managing two jobs, two small children and two schedules is often overwhelming we are still fortunate that we have not yet seen the worse of outcomes which for many are not only possible but sadly, likely.

The Universal Principles of Endurance
  • Keep Moving –  Winston Churchill has often been quoted as saying “when going through hell, keep… going..” The one universal truth of running long distance is that it doesn’t matter how fast you start, it’s whoever slows down the least is the one that wins in the end. The drag of miles and toil impact everyone universally but if you can find one way to put one foot in front of the other and get up every day with that mindset by the time you reach the finish line you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.
  • Patience Pays – Patience is a super power. When things go wrong (as they often will), if you lose your cool you’re only going to make things worse. It’s best to just take a step back and remember the goal. It’s also important to remember that everyone around you is also going through the same thing and if you can be the one to take a pause; take a beat to think deeply before acting – you’ll make smarter decisions that will pay off in the long term.
  • Garbage In. Garbage Out – Your body and your mind needs to be firing on all cylinders. It’s very hard for a machine to run optimally when you don’t give it the fuel you need – both nutritionally, emotionally and mentally. Strive to only consume the things which fuel you in the right way; don’t take shortcuts and don’t make excuses – if you put enough garbage in your tank, you’ll never come out the other side at your best.
  • All Stress is Training Stress – Reset your expectations about what your body and mind can handle on a daily basis. There is no plan that can’t be destroyed by a few poor nights of sleep or a hard day at the virtual office.
  • Routine Is The Dream – Coming up with a routine that works is really going to be the action that takes you out of this mess. While it’s impossible to predict all of the many things which can go wrong, even a daily practice of taking some deep breathes for 5 minutes can make a huge difference. As in running, getting your cadence right can be the difference between plunking along and floating above the road.
  • Fear Is The Enemy – God damn I hate cliches. It’s even worse when they are really true. Fear really is the emotion that can destroy your afternoon. There is nothing wrong with being afraid of a very scary time, however, it’s also true that fear can pull you far away from science, facts, data and knowing that as long as you keep on moving you can and will come out the other side.
  • 40% Rule – Goggins rule. It’s true. You are always capable of more than you think. This is the central governors theory in action; data seems to prove this out – just watch me finish a 50 mile race and how my last mile is faster than the previous 9-10 miles. Where did all of that energy come from?
  • Keep Singing – Stolen from General McCraven – it’s damn true. When you’re up to your neck in the cold surf, freezing, sandy, salty and it seems like you are jack hammering from the cold – SING. And if you have the chance, sing together. There is nothing like digging down to the sound of music to keep things going when everything seems lost.  It’s primal. Take advantage.
  • Lead By Example Some days you have it together. Other days you fall apart. The days you have it together, you don’t understand why other people have bad days – there’s nothing to be done about that though. All you can control is yourself and lead by example and bring other people along for the ride. Being positive and leading by example can be a motivating force, however, check your ego – you can’t really make anyone survive – all you can do is show them HOW and maybe they’ll be inspired to try it themselves.
  • Solve The Problem You Have (Not The Problem You Imagine) – Wow, our imaginations are truly powerful. The human brain is capable of so much but it can imagine so many variations of problems – probably more than you ever thought possible. There will always be problems – just deal with the one you’re looking at right now. Today. This very minute. Then move on.
  • The Finish Line Doesn’t Matter – Don’t ask where the finish line is – we don’t know. Ask every day if today, can you keep going? Can you keep going today? Can you make it to that next aid station. If the answer is YES! Then you have a shot at making it through the long haul.

I’m writing all of this down so when this pandemic ends (and it will end, or at least pivot to a new normal) I can look back on these lessons and apply them to less than dire circumstances. All of the opportunities we had when there wasn’t a pandemic will seem so much more rich and elevated – and the lessons, we’ll just have to see if they are still as useful as they seem right now.
Categories: On Location, RunningTags: , ,

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