Ask any veteran runner advice for race day, and you are likely to hear the oft-used maxim, “Run Your Own Race.” It means what it says. Run within the limits of your own body. Do not get caught up trying to keep pace with others. Do your own thing on race day, the same way your have trained, the way your body knows how to run. Do not adjust according to the race strategies of other runners. It is solid advice. But in 2020, “Run Your Own Race” means something very different – and very literal.
I have to confess that I was one of those runners who never saw the point of virtual races. When I sign up for a race – I am paying for the course support, the rush of being with other runners, and the whole race day experience. Well, that was before 2020, when what we previously knew as a “real-life event” ceased to exist, and virtual everything became the norm.
So, here I am, about to run a Pittsburgh Marathon event for the 12th year in a row. Except, it won’t be in Pittsburgh. And it will be on the same roads I run every day closer to my home. If I see other runners on the road, the first thoughts in our minds will be keeping a CDC-approved social distance, not cheering each other on to the finish. There will be no bands, no cheer squads, no finish line clock, and no one to hang a medal around my neck at the finish. So, how will I stay motivated?
Yes, I will be running my own race. But I won’t be alone. This race will be for the people my age who have lost a parent (or both parents) to COVID-19. This race is for the single mother, who finds herself suddenly trying to work from home and homeschool her children simultaneously. This race is for my running friends in the healthcare industry saving lives, because that is just what they always do. This race is for all of those who thought had job security one day, until they suddenly didn’t. This race is for the alcoholics who can’t attend AA meetings. It is for those suffering from mental health problems who always felt isolated to begin with – and now really do. It is for the Pittsburgh sports fans who live for sports, but now have no games to cheer. This race is for all of us who put on masks, and venture out to grocery stores because we can’t bear the thought of not providing toilet paper or other necessities to our kids when they need it. This race is for me – and for you – and all of our collective fears, anxiety, and uncertainties.
During my virtual race, I am going to take that pain and replace it with the much more manageable physical pain of running 26.2 miles. That is how I will stay motivated. With each step, I, and all the other runners running Pittsburgh and other virtual races, will be moving forward – both in running, and life, because that is what runners always do.
We are running our own separate races, but together. That is the new meaning of “Run Your Own Race.”