I visited my chiropractor for my weekly appointment today and responded to her question, “What’s new?” with what feels like it will be routine answer for the foreseeable future. “Not much.”
I was excited about the start of baseball, especially as soccer in the English Premier League ends for seven weeks. But the outbreak amongst the Miami Marlins makes me nervous that baseball, or football or college sports for that matter, can carry on safely over any sort of prolonged time. Where Europe took virus suppression seriously, the US misused the lockdown period and it feels like a weird holding pattern of sorts will be the norm for the foreseeable future, with periods of required shutdowns of either teams or entire league, schools or the entire idea of in-person learning. I just keep trying to stay safe and limiting ventures out as much as I can.
Gloomy as that sounds I am enjoying the reading and research for my running rebuild. I have been regularly working on posterior chain and core strength and have gotten more consistent with mobility and it feels like there are some tangible results. I will have to see how I feel when I resume running, but for now those small but noticeable changes have me feeling confident about my eventual return to the road.
I also signed up today to be screened as a volunteer for the Phase 3 trial of the Oxford COVID vaccine. I have no idea if I will make it through the screening and I admit to being nervous about the possibility of being a guinea pig in such an important but hurried experiment. However the results from the Phase 1 and 2 trials have me feeling confident about the safety of the vaccine and this is a moment where the entire world is in one way or another at a standstill waiting for the tools that can return us to normalcy. If the study needs volunteers and I can help, I would like to try.
English runners have the benefit of living in a country that took COVID suppression seriously (albeit after a perilous first act). The reward? They can start to look ahead to the potential return of races. While MLB here in the US could not make it a full week without an outbreak spreading through a team, English soccer games have gone on for two months, and without a bubble, with few cases amongst team personnel. Feeling comfortable with that success, the English government has given the ok for the slow return of mass participation events. United Kingdom Athletics and Run Britain have responded by releasing their guidelines on how races can return. I’m not sure that I would personally feel comfortable even within these guidelines, but then I live in one of the virus hotbeds in the world so I’m not sure I would feel comfortable doing almost anything around a large crowd right now. The guidelines are not too surprising: socially distanced start lines, fewer contact points, discouraging runners from laying down at the finish line. The experience would clearly be a different one for the time being.
I have only just recently learned about the remarkable running exploits of Tommy Rivers Puzey, an ultramarathoner currently fighting for his life having been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. From the reading I have done, it appears there is nowhere that Puzey hasn’t run some sort of ultra and he seems to bring what I can only describe as an Anthony Bourdain-like curiosity to his ventures, not simply running the local terrain but trying to better understand runners and the running culture in those places. In this deleted chapter from his recent book, Running the Dream, Matt Fitzgerald describes a run where Puzey paced him while sharing a wonderful story about running an ultra up a mountain in Costa Rica. A disappointing finish in that mountain ultra stoked Puzey’s curiosity and led him to an insight that bettered his running and serves as a guide to all runners about balancing life and running.
Ultrarunning coach Jason Koop shares this piece on how ultrarunners can use the disruption in racing to better prepare themselves for racing in 2021. More time, Koop points out, is something he is always looking for with his runners and 2020 provides just that. More rest and using workouts to tackle weaknesses are two of Koop’s focuses, with several suggestions given as to how ultrarunners can shore up weaknesses in different areas. This syncs up well with my own quest, which I wrote about in last week’s newsletter, to rebuild my running house by constructing a sturdier foundation. Many of my readers will not be ultrarunners, but Koop’s suggestions should emphasize to every runner that this is a year to consider weaknesses and carve out the time to work on them as we wait for normal racing to resume.
Steve Magness notes a performance paradox, that two people can view the same performance in fundamentally different ways. For those who view a subpar result as a failure, it may be necessary to reevaluate the definition of success. Is it based on bettering our previous self or on beating external competition? When experiencing failure we gain an opportunity to evaluate our goals and goal setting. We can create a continuum of possible successes, giving ourselves a range of outcomes to train toward. We can also focus on the process. I am doing this during my running rebuild. Rather than focusing on a distant outcome, for me it is almost always something related to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and instead focusing on the process of putting in the work in several training areas with the belief that sustained work there will deliver the results I am seeking.
Outlets continue to promote tenuous science and conspiracy theories, the most recent example being the sideshow covered by Breitbart on Monday where a small number of doctors denied the need to masks to stop the spread of COVID and repeated the call for using hydroxychlorquine to treat infected patients. These continued episodes are frustrating. I try, still, to react to those who reach toward such conspiracies with empathy. We are in tough times and without a unified message about how tough these times will continue to be, it is natural that people scared by their own uncertainty will gravitate toward anything that offers a quick exit.
This piece from Brad Stulberg stretches back a month or so but speaks to difficulty of finding stable ground in an unstable time. Gravitating toward one extreme (everything is fine!) or another (everything is awful!) is easy and offers a level of short term comfort. They are not the only options though. Stulberg offers a third, middle path, one rooted in acknowledging the difficulty of the now while resolving to move forward as best as the situation allows. Drawing on the work of a personal favorite of mine, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, Stulberg explains the benefits and practices of this third path. If the weight of the ongoing pandemic has been dragging you down lately, this is a necessary read.
I binge-listened to this podcast over the weekend and found it engaging and, as the name suggests, hopeful. The series focuses on five trying times from the last century: the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, the German blitz of 1940, polio outbreaks, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Each episode focuses on the good and the bad of the responses to each crisis, offering a road map of sorts for handling trying times.
Much of the current emergency is out of our hands, yet there are lessons we can nevertheless take from these moments. We cannot enact policy as FDR did, but we can be open to experimentation as the scientific and political communities try to navigate the challenge of a novel virus. We cannot rally a nation as Churchill did in 1940, but we can adopt his cleared-eyed realism as we navigate the current situation, eschewing those who would hawk miracle cures and silver bullet treatments. We cannot create a vaccine but we can note that in the lead up to the discovery of one for polio and large number of ordinary people did what they could to help finance research through charities like the March of Dimes. As runners, we can take heart that all of these practices build the mental fortitude to handle training and racing. Clear-eyed reality as a preface to optimism has solved many of the globe’s toughest problems and are equally important to working through smaller challenges as well.
This Week’s Quote
“You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.”
– Cheryl Strayed
As I begin to rebuild my running my co-host Andrew and I are starting a series of discussions on our podcast about the same thing. We will be discussing our own experiences with our running rebuilds as well as talking to professionals in various fields that will shed light on how to improve different aspects of running and fitness. Last week we featured two physical therapists to discuss proactive treatments and practices runners should adopt to improve performance and prevent injuries. Visit Rust Belt Running to find out where you can listen to all episodes of our show.
A Small Request
This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.