How to plan your summer of running when there are no races in the diary

Coronavirus has put running events on hold but that doesn't have to stop you in your tracks

Áine Scanlon celebrates her first marathon at a very different finish line than she had imagined when she set out training last winter. Instead of running with thousands of other runners she ran solo on the quiet roads local beside her family home in Kerry

Áine Scanlon celebrates her first marathon at a very different finish line than she had imagined when she set out training last winter. Instead of running with thousands of other runners she ran solo on the quiet roads local beside her family home in Kerry

 

For many years, race dates and training runs laid the foundations of my summer. I nervously awaited wedding invitations hoping they wouldn’t clash with running events in my calendar. This summer, with an empty race diary and an equally quiet social life, I won’t have that worry. But a blank training diary makes me a little anxious. My summer running calendar had always put shape to my weekly routine as well as the wider summer. When I have a training plan in place, I follow it. When I don’t, time literally disappears. And I don’t want this summer to run away on me.

Missing the medal

I have talked to a lot of runners recently who are struggling to stay motivated and enthusiastic about the months ahead. I empathise with the thousands of KBC Dublin Marathon runners who are now reassessing their running future. Many have spent months visualising and talking about their big city finish. The frustration is not reserved just for marathon runners or weekend racers. Many new runners have spent the spring building up to their very first 5k race. The disappointment is real for so many. Allow yourself the time to dwell on this setback, and when the time is right, think about what you might like to get out of your running summer instead. There is always room for a plan B.

The hidden joys

While runners grieve the loss of the race day, it is actually the absence of the entire buildup to the event that can leave a bigger gap. Remember that so much of what we achieve as runners happens between race days. Training runs offer discipline, structure, escapism, headspace and mental strength. While we may deal with setbacks along the way, we also make some of our best running memories on training runs. Our weekly runs give most of us a chance to wind down, clear our head and be away from screens and responsibilities for a while. When a race day is taken away, we need to be careful that we don’t lose all these benefits that training offers us. Maybe what we need is an alternative finish line to keep us going.

A virtual run

The concept of virtual running has become very popular this spring. With a virtual run, you sign up online, run the distance (safely and close to your home), submit evidence of your run and then await your reward in the post. Virtual races are a lifeline to charities these days as many of their regular fundraising events have been cancelled. If you are a magpie for race medals, there is certainly plenty of bling to collect in the virtual running world. The race experience is different from the usual race day atmosphere as you will miss the crowd and someone to chase down in a sprint finish, but you might just find that a virtual challenge inspires you to keep moving this summer.

Be creative

Signing up for a virtual run is not the only way to stay on the straight and narrow this summer. If you do not thrive on the competitive side of virtual racing, why not consider creating your very own personal event. You become the boss as you define your route, distance and the goodie bag! Visualise where and how far you might like to run locally, who could cheer you on and how you might celebrate at the end.

Memory lane

Be inspired by Áine Scanlon whose marathon dreams were hit with a covid cancellation. Indeed she was initially disappointed after a long winter and spring of training, but she picked herself up and created a marathon route very close to home. She enlisted her family as cheerleaders and they designed a home-made finish line. Áine’s first marathon may not have had the crowds of a big race day but the memories will stay with her as she runs those very same lanes again in the coming years. No one else will ever have that exact marathon experience.

Start now

The first step in your summer of running is to define what actually motivates you. Are you still driven to run the distance of your cancelled race? Maybe there is a charity you would like to support that has a virtual race coming up? Has Áine’s story has got you thinking about creating your own personal summer challenge? If you have lost your own running mojo, you might like to motivate and coach someone at home to take up running instead. The backbone of a running summer are the dates we have set in the diary from early summer. As race organisers look to test the waters with new ways of staging races and events, we cannot control the timeline for the return to racing but we can race differently in the meantime.

You make the rules

Memories are there to be made this summer. We need to think outside the box, find something that will inspire us and change the usual measures of running success just for one summer. We must be creative in how we keep ourselves motivated while also supporting our clubs, race organisers, charities and coaches at this time. I understand it can be so hard when you have set your sights on a particular day out. But when you look back on this summer in years to come, you can always remember it as the summer where you set the rules, learned something new, and maybe even like Áine, crossed the finish line first!

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary’s book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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