Marathon Mom Elite racing, Family and Training in the time of COVID-19

Elite racing, Family and Training in the time of COVID-19


I hardly know where to start. 

So I’ll go back to my last post, which I wrote shortly after racing the Robbie Burns 8 km in 28:12 on January 19 when I was just getting into a new rhythm with Reid Coolsaet as my new coach. Life included a good balance of training, coaching my daughter’s hockey team, volunteering at our kids’ school, speaking at a few special events, working part-time as Registered Dietitian, and keeping up with the kids’ growing list of activities. It was, and continued to be, a relatively mild winter. It didn’t take nearly as long to log the kilometers as in previous winters. Most training weeks included an average of 180 km with 8 runs in 6 days, and 1 complete rest day, with down weeks of around 150 km. As I’ve done in the last 3 years, I was periodizing my diet with fasted, low-glycogen, and specifically fuelled runs. And I was really starting to feel the difference with Reid’s new plan, specifically the increased power in my core and legs, which I attributed to the new and more deliberate strength-training and core routines. I was also regularly doing drills and strides for the first time in my running career. 

I didn’t race in February, which is fairly common for me as March often has several good racing opportunities, and racing conditions can be quite poor in mid-winter. This year I would do the Burlington Chilly Half as a workout with 2 km hard and 1 km moderate. I would save the racing for the New York City Half Marathon, two weeks later. It was a perfect day on March 1 in Burlington with my favourite winter running weather of sunny skies and crisp air. I set out to tackle this event alone as those around me would be aiming for consistent km splits. At the beginning, it was difficult to slow down to the moderate pace of 1km@3:50/km and in the end, I was working hard to hit the 2km@3:30/km. I explained to a few groups of men along the way what I was doing so that I didn’t mess with their pacing.  I got the job done, clocking 1:16:20 (3:36/km) with an average of 15 km @ 3:31/km and 6 km @ 3:48/km. Two more solid weeks of training and I would be able to test and gain more fitness in New York City in preparation for my 20th marathon on April 20, 2020 in Boston. I would be wearing the new Endorphin Pro carbon fibre plated shoes, designed by Olympian Jared Ward with other Saucony team members, and worn by Molly Seidel at the recent Olympic trials where she secured her spot on the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games team. The USA trials was her debut marathon!

I was looking forward to continuing to aim for a pace in the low 3:30’s/km while gaining confidence with the execution of road workouts and moderately paced hilly runs. Reid’s plan seemed to be perfect with a 9 day cycle, allowing for 2 recovery days between workouts, and a balanced rotation of quality sessions (intervals, hill repeats, hilly runs with moderate pacing, long runs, tempos). I was hitting more solid workouts on the road, and still including the treadmill but relying on it less than in the past. I’ve always been able to gain a really good amount of fitness while staying healthy and injury-free in the final training phase, and I was quite looking forward to it. It was going to be tough to meet the standard of top 10 in Boston in order to be on the list with Canadians, Dayna Pidhoresky (guaranteed spot with her 2:29:03 and top Canadian at Canada’s trials at the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon), Malindi Elmore (2:24:50, Houston 2020), Rachel Cliff (2:26:56, Nagoya 2019), and Lyndsay Tessier (9th, 2019 World Championship). The Canadian men’s side is entirely different with only Trevor Hoffbauer’s secured sport. But I wanted to be eligible for another Olympic team, earn a decent income to help financially support my family, and stay competitive at the international level for future consideration of other world marathon majors. With my completion of London, Berlin and Boston, I only have Tokyo, New York City, and Chicago left. 

Then it all changed. 

The “what if” became a matter of “when.” The list of cancellations, closures, and postponements filled the news within a matter of a few days as COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It would be the first pandemic since the H1N1 in 2009. 

Appropriately so, our calendars became completely empty in order to help control the spread. The news included constant updates on the severity of the virus and number of new cases in Canada and around the world. Social media informed us about the need for social distancing and diligent hand-washing, the hoarding of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and how to flatten the curve and homeschool your children.  As an extrovert, a three week pause on life would be a big change. In the summer, when I tend to change to an introvert to recharge and relax at our cabin, it would have been no problem. March, often being my busiest but perhaps most enjoyable month of the year, was an entirely different thing. 

Friday was a scheduled rest day from training anyway so I took it easy, treated myself to a post-season pecan square from Sweet Bakery, and started thinking about how life would look. We’re now only a few days into a three (or more) week hold on life and while our family certainly hasn’t succeeded in moderating screen time we have spent more time outdoors, enjoyed more meals together, watched a few videos together, looked through some photo albums, baked, and discussed possible ideas for our new routine. 

On Saturday morning I enjoyed my run with good friends, Dale and Clayton, logging a few more kilometres than planned but I savoured the social time and easy pace, and enjoyed the scenic country route and coffee together afterward, while keeping an appropriate distance from each other. As Sunday was to be a race (I had actually planned to do the Achilles St. Patrick’s Day 10 km in Toronto, as a replacement for NYC, before it too was cancelled), Reid turned it into a workout after explaining to myself and his other athletes that we’d scale back training while still maintaining fitness.

I tried to make my 10 km a virtual race but didn’t get it figured out in time so I just used it as a time trial, a race against myself. I think we will start to see more of these virtual races in order to feel connected and like we have some purpose to our training.

In the morning I went through my normal race day routine of getting up early, having a bagel with honey and 2 cups of coffee, braiding my hair, making my Eload recovery drink, warming up with a few strides, wearing my newest Smith sunglasses, and stripping down to my shorts and long compression socks. I even laced up the new Saucony Endorphin Pro shoes that sat in my carry-on for New York. Reid suggested I add 3-6 km after my 10 km effort so I completed just over three laps of a 3 km loop with a time of 35:49 for 10 km (3:35/km), followed by an easy 1 km, 3 km on the track at 3:32/km, another easy 1 km, and 2 km on the track at 3:33/km. It was a touch windy but the sun was out and I thoroughly appreciated the ability to move my legs around and around, “racing” or not. I ended up running 21.1 km afterall and got home just in time to watch church on-line with my family, while completing some core work, stretching, and doing other preventative maintenance exercises. We’ve had another lazy day and I’m starting to look more closely at the homeschooling resources and sample routines (please, send help!) as I keep a mindset of a healthy not an unhealthy fear amidst this pandemic. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand”.

As gyms and other training facilities are closed and there are no races in the near future, we can be thankful for roads, tracks, trails, home gyms, and springtime weather. And of course, Strava. It is far better to be able to run but not race than to not be able to run at all. We’ve all been there with injury and illness – it is not fun. 

Although we must keep our physical distance, we can stay connected in other ways. 

As for what’s next, there is certainly now an abundance of fall marathons from which to choose. I have until March 30 to notify the Boston Marathon if I would like to participate in the new date of September 14. What we missed this spring will definitely make for an exciting fall. After doubling up successfully in 2019 (Boston and Ottawa), I can see myself running two fall 2020 marathons. As for the Tokyo Olympics, I am truly hoping that it will not be cancelled. I would be absolutely gutted for all of the athletes who anticipated competing there this summer. 

As I sit typing at the window, watching my husband and kids playing basketball in the driveway, I am once again reminded to be grateful for the simple things of life. That 20th marathon can wait. For now, we have some granola and monster cookies to bake.