top of page

An athlete's guide to coping with cancelled races and other COVID-19 fallout.

By Carrie Stander

Scores of flights cancelled. Borders and national parks closed. Major team sports halted mid-season. It was only a matter of time before the virus came for the running community too. The Boston Marathon failed to take place in April, then, around the world, race after race announced cancellation or postponement. Western States, Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, and most recently, Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. And that's to name just a few of the headliners. We've trained hard for these races; poured time, energy and money into our events and arranged our life plans around them. It stinks, there's no denying it. We're all eager to get back to the delightful normalcy of running our favorite trails and traveling to races again.

So mourn those cancelled races. Keep checking official websites for trail openings in the national or county parks near you. But then remember that these times don't have to be bleak. Life is what you make of it, and if you embrace this time as a chance for positive challenge, it can be that too. In fact, I truly believe that you can not only cope, you can thrive. Here are a few ideas for staying healthy and happy no matter what kind of curves the trail of life lays before you.

Explore more

Yes, you read that right. I'm suggesting that you use this time to do more exploring than usual. To get started, adjust your mindset. Adventure isn't an air-plane ride away, adventure is everywhere! Adventure is on your doorstep if you seek it. Do you live near a hill/mountain? Do you know how quickly you can get to the top - or what you can see from it? Live near a forest or farmland? Ever thought about doing a photo scavenger hunt and getting more familiar with the local flora and fauna? Even if you're stuck in the city, you're got options. Get inspired by the route sculptures of other athletes and design your own on your city streets! 

Most people go far away to explore, but I bet there are places near you that you've never been before. Use this time to rediscover the place where you live. For me, this has taken the form of running every single road and path in the local forest. I've gotten to know the twists and turns of each trail and recognize many unique species of trees. I go out in different weather and at different times of day. One of my new hobbies is designing routes with different features: How can I get the most elevation gain in a single run? What's the best route to avoid roads and stay on single-track? Which is the fastest way to the river at the heart of the forest?

Exploring every inch of the local forest!

Harder, better, faster, stronger

Sometimes we get so caught up in racing, we exclusively use events to measure our growth and success as athletes. But that need not be the case. Were you planning to run your fastest 5 or 50k this year? Good news: you still can. In fact, you can even choose your own course! Sure, there might be a few more logistics involved (especially if you're aiming for a longer distance!). But where there's a will, there's a way: fill your car with snacks and run loops back to it. Or do something similar based around your apartment and/or a local shop. You might even discover that you've got a knack for route design along the way!

Additionally, if ever there was a time to become a more well-rounded athlete, this is it. Have you been neglecting strength training for your upper body in favor of time on the trails? I'm guilty as charged, and I know I'm not alone. If you're serious about gaining muscle, improving hip mobility or increasing your overall flexibility, now is a great chance to focus on these supporting elements. My husband and I recently set up a home gym and got back into yoga - both things we've had on the to-do list for years! To keep costs to a minimum, follow your favorite athletes on social media and see how they keep fit. There are also plenty of free exercise videos and articles available online, and you can always incorporate trees, steps and common household objects into your workout. If you really want to take things to the next level, consider taking online classes or working with a coach. Either way, today is the day you can build a really strong foundation - from your bedroom, your balcony or your backyard!

Stoked on strength training!

Run for fun

Whether you're a beginner just getting started with a running routine or a weekend warrior with a (formerly) full calendar of races, chances are you're spending a lot of time training. While training is important to make us better athletes, it's even more important to remember that running is fun. Especially trail running! Watch how that dog races across the park: that's exactly how running should feel! Experiment with your running and see what makes it fun for you. 

In my element among the tallest trees on Earth

Take good care of yourself

This is really the first step - of running and life! It's normal to feel sadness, anger or a loss of purpose when you lose an opportunity to pursue a goal that matters to you. This year I planned to do just a handful of special races. But, one by one, they've been getting cancelled. The first to go was Yading Kora Ultra - and with this cancellation I lost my chance to explore more of China and practice running at altitude. Next, Rinjani100 was postponed - and so was my opportunity to revisit Indonesia and conquer one of the very toughest races in Asia!

Honor your emotions and invest time in exploring them. Are you bummed that you can't explore a new trail? Or frustrated that you won't be able to compete or set that personal best? A little healthy introspection will connect you to the reasons these events or goals matter to you in the first place. And once you have a better handle on your why, you can start thinking about if and how you might be able to replace an event with something you can do.

Have a heart, for yourself too!

Let it go: only worry about what you can control

On a related note, keep your focus on your own actions as much as possible. Wondering if your autumn race will be cancelled too? Welcome to the club! But instead of stressing about decisions you can't take part in or announcements yet to be made, think about what you can do, right now. You can train hard as though you are going to race, and you can make a plan B for what you will do if your event doesn't take place. 

The same goes for life outside running too! Don't worry about the possibility of getting laid off: think of ways to show your value to your employer. Already out of work? Consider taking an online class to build up your skills or expanding your job search horizons to incorporate other industries or areas of interest. Worried about getting sick or annoyed that others aren't following the new social rules? Shift your focus from what other people aren't doing to what you are doing. Wash your hands, wear a mask and stay healthy!

Masked and marching on!

Be generous with your time

If you're like most of us and have had one of your upcoming events cancelled, you may have a little more free time on your hands than usual. While I definitely encourage you to get after those soul-fulfilling long runs and crush those online challenges, consider using your free time to connect and give back to your community. 

If you live with family, make a pancake breakfast, play a game or offer to do a chore on your usual long run day. If you're on your own, call friends and family frequently. Everybody benefits from reconnecting with old contacts or making a neighbor's day with a surprise batch of cookies. Clean out your closet and donate old running gear for others' use. These actions can give you back a sense of purpose and remind you of what else you have in your life besides racing.

Help keep the fam fit!

Plan for the future

Never stop looking and moving forward. Now is the perfect time to research how to turn your dreams into reality. What would it take for you to qualify for UTMF or run your first 100k? Find out now and make an action plan that will get you there. You've been granted extra time to prepare for those postponed races: use it so you can make the best race plan ever and arrive on the starting line stronger than you've ever been.

Read race reports.  Connect with other runners and let them introduce you to dreamy new destinations and great new goals to strive for. And keep in touch with Asia Trail Girls - we're here for you!

When it re-opens, I'm going to run this beach end-to-end!

bottom of page