Running In The Time of Corona

“Good Morning Runner!”

It’s a Saturday or Sunday morning in early spring. The sun has yet to rise. There’s a chill in the air that makes it a little hard to stretch. Most of us haven’t slept all that well the night before – due in equal parts to carb loading and to anticipation. The alarm went off, but we were probably already awake. No shower this morning – that will happen later. Breakfast is a single cup of black coffee and toast with peanut butter, banana, & honey. The gear is set out on top of the dresser. The time of year determines the number of layers. There may even be a layer or two specifically set aside to be donated to the giant bins at the starting line. Because once we start, we heat up, and the layers come off. Even on the coldest of March mornings while many of us don hats and gloves and neck warmers, there’s always those few running in shorts and not much else.

We all make our way to the starting corrals as the sun inches its way over the horizon, and the clocks tick towards starting time. Some people make last minute pit stops to the rows of port-a-potties. We continue to stretch, or hop in place to keep warm, or adjust our gear, set our music or podcasts as we wait for those three words, “Good Morning Runners!” This is followed by cheers, then some short speeches, and finally the singing of our national anthem. The race starts with the professional runners – those elite few who look like they’re made of lanky bones and lean muscle, and can probably finish a half marathon in less time than it takes me to complete a 10K. Then Wave 1, and so on.

I’ve never run a full marathon – not sure I ever will – but I’ve been running one to three half marathons per year since 2013. My first, the 2013 Brooklyn Half was definitely my best. I was in the best shape of my adult life, and ran it in under two hours. In addition to Brooklyn, the following years I ran the NYC Half, Staten Island, and starting last year, Pittsburgh. I love the atmosphere and energy of these races. Sure, I get winded and sore and tired, but there’s something about the other runners, and the spectators that feeds your energy, and helps get you to and across the finish line. It’s a unique and beautiful thing.

This year I was planning to run two half marathons – Pittsburgh on May 3rd, and Brooklyn on May 20th. It’s probably the most ambitious half marathon schedule I’ve ever planned for myself. But, now that I live in Pittsburgh, I am committed to running every year – assuming my body allows me – as I raise money for the local Humane Animal Rescue. Previously I’d run the NYC Half for Team ASPCA. And I was planning to return to my old stomping grounds to run my my sixth Brooklyn Half for the first time since 2017. Pittsburgh was cancelled, but as of now Brooklyn is still set to happen*. Though, I’m not holding my breath. COVID-19 has pretty much shut down the entire world, and I’m not overly confident that it will all be over by late May.

Pittsburgh did something interesting, though. They allowed all runners to run the race (whether the half or full marathon, or other races offered that day) virtually. That means I didn’t have to let down the people who donated to my charity fund, and I was able to challenge myself in an entirely new way. This past Saturday was the perfect day to give it a try. The morning was sunny, but cool. I wore shorts, but threw on a long sleeve half-zip, and a cotton knit beanie and gloves. I ate a light breakfast (matzos are not quite bread, but whatever) and drove over to my usual training/running spot, North Park.

The main “track” is a five mile loop around a series of small lakes. There are several sections of gradual inclines, but also more flat areas than really anywhere else in the North Hills. (Pittsburgh, and the surrounding areas are very hilly.) There’s a point in the course where you can cut through to make the loop more like 4.5 miles. I took the short cut on my first pass, but opted for the full loop on my second. After completing 9.5 miles, I was wiped, but decided to carry on. People are still visiting the park, and are not practicing good social distancing. All I need is for the governor to close the park completely, and then what? Next weekend might not be an option, so I had to finish. I went for the third loop. My legs felt like heavy rocks, and I stopped often – probably once per mile – to rest and stretch. But I kept going. I passed 11, then 12 miles. I was truly in the home stretch now; listening to my music, cheering myself on in my head. I passed 13 miles, and saw a road sign up in the distance that I guessed was probably 1/10 of a mile. I passed the marker, and came to a slow stop; fists pumping in the air. I checked my running app, and sure enough it said 13.1. I did it.

Running races is something I did often when I lived in New York, and something I hope to do more of here in Pittsburgh once things return to normal. My time was hardly my best, but that can be attributed to a lot of things – didn’t carb load, training wasn’t as thorough as it’s been in the past, no crowd of runners and spectators to add to the atmosphere, or maybe it was the martini I’d consumed the night before. I’ll chalk it up to a combination of them all. Still feels good to add another finished half marathon to the books.

*The Brooklyn Half Marathon has since been cancelled for 2020.

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