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Bob Cawood: The pandemic stripped away its decorations, but running remains the same | COMMENTARY

Bob Cawood writes for some runners, they need the glitz of a large community running event, like this Anti-Resolution Donut Mile women's race hosted by Charm City Run Annapolis last January, to justify the hours or training and the miles underfoot.
Bob Cawood writes for some runners, they need the glitz of a large community running event, like this Anti-Resolution Donut Mile women's race hosted by Charm City Run Annapolis last January, to justify the hours or training and the miles underfoot. (Paul W. Gillespie)

After being on the “running correspondent bench” for almost a year due to pandemic uncertainties, it is great to be back!

My last article, all the way back in March 2020, spoke of the difficulties of training, racing and just plain old running during the pandemic. There were concerns about whether we should run outside, should we be on the roads, do we wear a mask while running? Earlier generations offered us some clues on how to deal with the difficulties of the present based on our past actions. We are not the first generation to be faced with social upheaval whether through a global pandemic or other generational crisis; hence Shakespeare’s famous words in The Tempest: “what’s past is prologue.”

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, advised us last year that running is “not only safe, it’s healthy,” and backed up his words by continuing to run at least 3.5 miles a day at the age of 80. That was welcome news for runners, who said “running isn’t canceled.” But the realities and uncertainty, both mental and physical, were still there.

There were, of course, more important things to be concerned about, such as social change, rising infection and resulting death rates. But the practical, everyday issues unique to those that like to run persisted, as they did for everyone who loves the outdoors. How was a runner to approach training when there were no events, no goals to shoot for, no calendar to fill up with races? What was the point of all the training miles? How could one run safely? How long was all this going to last? Certainly, the races in the fall of 2020 will go forward, right?

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Our history in 2020 set the context and stage for 2021. Gone were the large and small races, the Annapolis and Cherry Blossom 10 Mile runs, the Marine Corps, Boston, Chicago and New York marathons. Training runs and training groups were canceled. None of this happened right away. It was like watching old friends, races we have all done, be canceled month after month. Every week brought a new disappointment.

Yet running continued in a new (and temporary) form. It was one of the few things a person could have control over, as the road is always open. The virtual races of the past 12 months have continued to foster a sense of community while staying within the current guidelines, serving as goal posts.

The Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee (the “Rat”) saw more than 19,000 runners from around the world sign up to “run” 1,000k, or 635 miles, across Tennessee in four months from May to August. If you finished, you could turn around and go “out and back” as many times as you wanted. In a twist, the runners had two virtual minders to push them: the Gingerbread Man, who was always in first place (“You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man”) and the Buzzard, who reminded those falling behind that they wouldn’t finish if the buzzard beat them. One always wanted to stay one step ahead of the buzzard.

The winner of that race — well, technically second, behind the Gingerbread Man— was Matthew Jenkins, a Marine from North Carolina, who ran 8.26 crossings and 5,242 miles. That is an average of 43 miles a day for 120 days in a row.

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Maryland had 451 runners take up the challenge of the Rat, with strong performances by local runners Faye Weaver, Ed Masuoka, Adeline Ntam, Tammy Massie, Judith Weber, John Hold, Casey Rayburg, Walter Handloser, Candice Rhine, Mark Dickson, Heather Dickson, Suzie Spangler and many others, all completing the Rat and then some. They key to the Rat was not speed but consistency in getting out there every day and getting your miles in. It was a true endurance contest that fostered community runners were missing. And you got a cool belt buckle if you made it!

Along with virtual and limited in-person events, the local running clubs have continued to offer their members and the community at-large access to running and training events, whether virtual or in small groups.

As we work our way through 2021, in-person racing is starting to make its way back, albeit with a new normal to it. No large crowds, staggered starts with a few socially distanced runners, no spectators, minimal to no aid, no post-race party or in-person awards ceremony. It is now mask up, get your race bib, line up six feet apart, go run, finish, and go home. It can be an odd experience, sort-of like a running dream, “did that really happen?”

Racing these days is a different beast, but at its core it hasn’t really changed all that much. What the pandemic has stripped away is the decorations and trappings of the “event,” leaving behind the essence of racing: a clock, a runner, a course, the weather and the challenge of the distance. And maybe a t-shirt.

For some runners, they need the glitz of a large community running event, with its attendant celebration, to justify the hours or training and the miles underfoot.

But most runners are content with the purity of running without a race on the calendar. Just getting a run in, whether it is on the roads, trail or treadmill, is the “event.” There is no need for a medal or a social media post, just happy in the exercise of putting one foot in front of the other.

As the pandemic marches on, always one day closer to ending, the opportunities to get in a run are out there. Your goal is never the race; it is today’s run, which isn’t going to run itself.

Upcoming races & running events

(All are subject to government approval and compliance with COVID-19 restrictions)

Have a question, comment or addition to the calendar? Email Bob Cawood at rhbc@cawoodlawfirm.com

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