By Mike Smith
Normally if I penned this line I would be likely pondering how much progress either myself or my athletes have made as runners. However, under the shadow of Covid, I’m left to reflect on “the lost year.” At this time a year ago I was writing a piece on my run through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel in Springdale, Utah in the early morning hours at the end of February vacation. Now as I reflect back on it, that’s the last trip I’ve taken.
The other night I was making dinner like most nights and had the pleasure of my daughter’s company. We started talking about that trip, waxing nostalgically on things we wish we could be planning if things were different. Not that we’d definitely be travelling this February vacation but under the guise that we could be.
Last April I had a trip planned to Flagstaff, the mecca of high altitude training for endurance athletes. I had this plan that I was going to flog myself with two-a-days, not with the intention of becoming an endurance monster, but to experience it like the pros, or at least the would be pros do. I was very excited to punish myself this way for the experience of it, to live like, even for a brief couple of days, like the elite do.
Then Covid hit. Had to scrap that trip and looked forward to doing the same in 2021. Well let’s just say that plan was based on the best case scenario and as we know we currently aren’t there. So I’ve put the trip off until April 2022.
But the year hasn’t been a total loss. While it would have been easy to lose focus, run less with no races available, for me it didn’t have that effect. Like many I was able to use the extra time and flexibility in my day to expand my running. I was able to run during the warmest part of the day coming as we came out of the winter and travel a little bit further, not hemmed in by a stringent time schedule or time occupied by spring track practice.
And this was good. But without any trail festivals, races and events to go to, keeping the ball rolling even gets tough for those that run simply to keep a steady mind and strong heart. While I still ran, it was missing much of the social part that I love about it too. I was out running by myself, and enjoying it but missing the human interaction that takes place as two individuals are out “getting it done” on a long tough run. I missed the hanging out before and after a group run along with the meetups for a group run at all kinds of various locations I might not go on my own.
As 2020 came to an end, I spent time reflecting on the year that wasn’t. It wasn’t a track season that’s for sure, and while there was a cross country season it wasn’t one like we’d ever seen before. Don’t get me wrong, there were some stupendous performances (like the CB boys!) but without a New Englands or FootLocker or NXN it certainly WASN’T the same.
But I also learned in situations such as this, it’s important to take stock and recognize what you do have. I have two sturdy legs and on good days they allow me to get out there and do what I love. I get to challenge myself and change my perceptions of what I can accomplish in running. Even as PRs elude me from this point on, I can take on challenges I’ve never tried before. I can relearn the reasons I started in this sport, the enjoyment of simply getting out, hitting the trail under my own power and seeing just how far that can take me. It might not be as exciting as it was when I was streaking to new records or pushing the limits of what my training prepared me for, but I can still have purpose to my running.
So as I take on the new year and all the challenges that this one still presents, I do so knowing I’m still inspired to get after it. And while this year is no more or less precious than those that came before, I’ve certainly learned to step back and enjoy it for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. No matter what this year looks like, recognize there is opportunity out there, it just might not look like you’ve envisioned. Be open to the experience so that you don’t let the opportunity that IS out there become the opportunity that eludes you because you were looking for something different.