The other week Reid Coolsaet, the Canadian Olympian, was talking about his attempt at breaking 2:10 in Italy and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games. In the end, Coolsaet couldn’t accomplish his goal and told iRun in an interview that part of his build fail was that he couldn’t participate in any “rust-busters,” events to put himself in the zone that only races can provide. “Races make certain paces feel easier,” Coolsaet said, and he’s obviously a disciplined, experienced runner; someone who, more than the rest of us, can push himself on speed workouts, Fartleks and the other training exercises we endure to get ready for race day.
Without racing, what do we miss? We asked our readers and certainly heard this response often: “Purposeful training.” I know in my own training without a goal race I struggle to make myself suffer without a finish line to visualize. Do you run six or eight reps when the weather is bad and you haven’t booked a plane ticket to a destination half marathon? It’s hard not to make the whole thing feel irrelevant when we’re literally just running in circles with no start line in sight. Do you need $350 shoes for that?
The majority of our readers, however, didn’t miss racing for their chance to PB. Unlike Coolsaet, our finishing times don’t really matter. Sure, we want to push ourselves and run quickly and qualify for Boston and break our own records. We love that, and that’s part of the joy of our sport. But the majority of runners echoed this sentiment that we heard again and again.
“I miss spectators and being with other runners to help us when we have a difficult time to finish the race,” wrote one reader.
“I really miss the people and the atmosphere around an event. The excitement of race morning,” said another.
Readers talked about missing the adrenaline rush, the cheers from family and friends and strangers, who often call the racers out by name when they’re written on our bibs. Racers miss raising money for charity and so many runners miss the community coming together.
“I miss having a defined event goal, excitement of the start line, my favourite people in any event: the volunteers and cheering spectators, and of course a post-race ice cream,” said Lesley Quinlan, race director of the Canada Army Run.
“I miss seeing my running community from all across the Atlantic provinces. Miss them all dearly,” one runner said.
When one reader wrote that she missed, “being with friends for a weekend away,” three other readers echoed her sentiment. How many of us have traveled with friends or family or a run squad to an event out of town? Is there anything better than a team meal after the entire group, who worked together, celebrates crossing a finish line six months in the making?
“I’m missing the energy of in-person races and specifically the satisfaction of witnessing people reach for their potential,” said Kirsten Fleming, executive director of the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon. “Creating virtual experiences gets people moving, but it’s incredibly anti-climactic to congratulate people with ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ rather than high-fives and finish line hugs.”
Virtual experiences are a huge COVID-19 boost to runners and there are excellent events keeping our country moving. Our own parent company hosts a series of Virtual Run World events that have attracted a huge population of new runners. Once racing does return, these new entrants to our sport will be able to experience in-person racing for the first time and a whole new cohort of dedicated runners will be born. Suddenly, lots more people will need those $350 shoes.
“I miss the starting corral nervousness and excitement,” a reader said.
“I miss the anticipation in the air,” said another.
Race withdrawal is a serious thing and runners are becoming desperate. We don’t know exactly when in-person racing will return in Canada, although the vaccines are being administered and American races are announcing their in-person starting lines. All we know is that when we miss racing we miss more than just pushing ourselves to the limit. We miss the people. We miss the family. We miss the experience. One runner even pushed the limits of sentimentality. She said: “I miss the long line ups for the porta potty only to come out and realize that your bladder is also nervous and you need to go again!”
Only in racing, folks. Hang in there. One day, our beloved races will return.