3 Reasons to Sign Up for a Virtual Race

Virtual races exploded after COVID-19 shut most in-person races down in the spring. While some areas have returned to in-person racing, most are still offering virtual options as well. For many, the appeal of virtual racing is starting to wear thin as they long to be back to the adrenaline filled starting line. 

I certainly love in-person racing, the catching up pre-race, the meeting strangers on the trail and swapping life stories over the tough miles, the sweaty post-race hugs and selfies, and just, well, my “people.” Health concerns do have me extra cautious, but it’s more than that.

Grass path across a meadow
Missing the Meadows of Death this year. Backyard Classic runners, you know what I’m talking about.

Right now, when things change from day to day (I never though virtual kindergarten would be in my life!), I’d rather have the certainty of a virtual race. After all, it can’t get cancelled, right? This post will cover 3 reasons I’m still turning to virtual races.

1.    Flexibility

Like many of us, my schedule from day to day can vary greatly, and planning more than a few days out can be tricky. Weekends end up being “catch up on all of the things I didn’t get done during the week.” The weather this time of year here in Kentucky doesn’t help either. 

Who knows when a severe storm will pop up or the humidity is so high it smacks you around as soon as you get out the door? I’ll run in rain, sure, but I’m nope-ing out of anything resembling thunder and lightning. And if I need some extra sleep that day, I’m fine getting a later start, which I couldn’t do at an in-person race.

With usually a week’s time span or often longer to get a virtual race done, I can tailor it to my schedule. If it’s storming all day, I can plan it a day ahead or later. If I know a heat wave is coming or about to break, I can wait. If I have a lot of deadlines, I can hold off on that long virtual race to mid-week. I need that flexibility right now. And sleep, always sleep.   

2.    Accessibility

Let’s face it, I have a small child, work that requires me to be online often, and it’s just hard to get away for very long. Virtual races let me participate in races I normally couldn’t. 

The first virtual race I signed up for was Aravaipa Running’s Aravaipa Strong race. Their Javelina Jundred is on my bucket list, and I jumped at the chance to participate in Jamil Coury’s event. Lazarus Lake’s Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000K has been wildly popular as so many want to be a part of any of Laz’s events, without the torture and bleakness of the Barkley Marathons, which only a few can aspire to in the first place.

In fact, I just signed up for the LBL Bridge to Bridge Trail Run at Land Between the Lakes. I couldn’t have made it down there during the school semester, and I get to support the state parks and Calloway County High School’s Track and Field Team. 

3.    Charity

One of the great things about the racing community, whether roads or trails, is the amount they raise for charities with their races. I’ve done races, like the Huber’s Barnyard Dash 10K, simply because their proceeds all go to a charity I believe in, the Crusade for Children.

Crossing finish line with child
I also got to cross the finish line with my daughter, so that’s definitely a favorite race.

Virtual races bring my attention to even more charities, and I can stay motivated and feel good about supporting a worthy cause. In fact, I also just signed up for Race to the Case, benefiting Girls on the Run International. Just do your research and make sure the race company/director is reputable and the charity will see the majority, if not all of, the proceeds.

You can find virtual races through a Google search or even the typical sites like Runsignup and Ultrasignup. Some are intentionally virtual, and sometimes you can get on in a race that has been turned into a virtual event, like the LBL Bridge to Bridge Trail Run. The options abound! All you need is a run tracking app on your phone or a GPS watch. Read Consumers Advocate’s guide on fitness trackers and watches to help you select one.

Finish line hugs
These moments I really miss though.

There are lots of people itching to get back to in-person racing. Me, I’ll stick to virtual races awhile longer. They suit my needs for the moment, but you better bet I’m dreaming of a late winter/spring 50K in 2021 and tackle hugging my running and race buddies at my next “real” start line.

Have you done a virtual race yet? Why or why not? What do you get out of them? Let me know in the comments below!

How to Use SMART Goals to Be a Better Runner and Writer

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Now that I’m finally back to running after almost a month, I’m having to look at and readjust my training plan. I know better than to step right back into 40 mile weeks. I’m easing back in by running for time rather than distance for a couple of weeks while I figure out how to adjust for a potential 50K trail race in October. 

I’m going to have to set goals a bit differently with summer coming to an end as well. Last fall, I took advantage of the preschool hours and got lots of trail miles in at nearby Cherokee Park. When I originally made my 50K plan this past spring, I thought I’d be able to use the school hours in the same way. Then, pandemic. I had been ignoring the looming changes in our schedules, but, as well all know, that doesn’t make it go away.

It’s currently the end of July and my daughter is getting ready to start kindergarten online in August. At the same time, my husband will hopefully be going back to work. All that means is I will have less opportunities to run going forward than I had in the first half of my training cycle. I have to admit, I was lucky to have my supportive husband at home and be able to get out whenever I could.

Of course, I also have to balance planning the fall writing classes I’m teaching while finishing up teaching a summer course as well as my freelance writing clients. To say I have a lot going on is a vast understatement. Trying to figure out when to get any of it done is intimidating, but I do thrive on being busy.

While I was switching tasks to do some course planning, it hit me. Why not apply SMART goals to my running? I use them for my students when developing course assignments for my classes, and I help clients use them planning content strategy. I can certainly use them for my own running and writing; they are both just processes after all. This post will cover how to develop and apply SMART goals to your running or writing routine to put you in control of your path and increase your motivation.

S is for Specific and Small

Specific goals are always easier to meet. You know exactly what you’re aiming for when you say you want to run a 30 minute 5K, complete a marathon, or finish a book of poems. I want to add another S to this, small. Small and specific goals are more immediately attainable.

If you have a larger specific goal, try to break it down into smaller pieces. That 30 minute 5K? Set a goal for a single mile at the pace you have to keep for the whole 3.1 miles, 9 minutes and 40 seconds. Then, after you achieve that, you can work on two miles at that pace. You can even set a goal as small as “I want to run a ½ mile without stopping.” Once you do that, move it to “I want to run 1 mile without stopping” and keep building.

The same goes for writing. Instead of focusing on the whole book, focus on poem by poem or section by section and focus on draft by draft. Saying “I want to finish my book by the end of the year” gives you plenty of time to slack off, ignore it, and get distracted. Instead, set a goal for when you want to have first drafts of a section or chapter done.

If that’s too large a goal, go with a smaller word or page count. Just get it done. Again, these smaller goals are easier to achieve, giving you the satisfaction of meeting and setting new goals more quickly as well as helping you manage your time with more immediate deadlines. Break down your long term dreams and goals into smaller bits to keep focused.

M is for Measurable

Running is a sport that’s all about measurements, distance, time, splits. We obsess over VO2 max, lactate threshold, heart rate, cadence, and training paces along with keeping a close eye on outside temperature and humidity percentages. The recent Garmin outage shows how obsessed many of us are over these kinds of statistics. The statistics driven nature of the activity makes it easier to set measurable goals but also easier to get bogged down in numbers.

Don’t think “I want to be a better runner,” think “I want to run my easy pace with a lower heart rate” or “I want to increase my cadence by 10 steps per minute.” The important thing to keep in mind is that they won’t happen right away. Don’t get sucked into the “every run has to be better than the one before” mindset. Set your measurement and look at your stats related to it once a week. 

With writing, focusing on drafting stages or sending out to a certain number of publications can be a great way to set measurable goals. It’s easy to see if you have sent poems to 5 journals a week or sent a draft to a reader by a certain date. Putting numbers to writing, even though we often hate it, can help make the process more data driven and give us something more tangible to focus on.

A is for Achievable

Notice that breaking down goals into smaller chunks has the end result of making them more achievable. Achievable goals will keep you from getting discouraged by being unrealistic. If you’ve just started running or are coming back from months off, aiming for a marathon in 3 months probably isn’t the best choice. If you’re currently running a 12 minute per mile pace, a 10 minute pace isn’t the best choice. Those can be longer term goals, but setting them as a SMART goal would be discouraging. 

Instead, set smaller goals throughout the year or even training cycle. It could be as simple as “Run 5 miles for the first time” or “Run 4 days a week.” After you achieve that goal, up it to running 7 miles or running 4 days a week for 4 weeks. The thing about goals, is you can always adjust and change after you meet them. In fact, with the satisfaction of meeting your smaller goal, you’ll be more motivated to set the next one.

With writing, don’t focus on publication, which you have limited control over. You can’t be sure when and where a piece will get accepted or published, so that isn’t as readily achievable. Focus on setting goals related to drafting, revising, and sending out, things you do have control over. You draft, polish, and send out enough, publications will happen. Focus on carving out smaller bits of writing time consistently; you’re more likely to actually do it. 

R is for Relevant

Make sure your goals will help you achieve your end result and not work against it. This is where FOMO comes in, that fear of missing out. It’s totally okay to miss out on a group challenge or specific workout when it’s not for you. I’m a runner who came to it later in life, and while I love watching other people have run streaks, where they run every day, my body couldn’t handle that. 

For example, if your goal is to increase distance, focusing on pace can be counterproductive. If your goal is a faster 5K, 15 mile long runs probably won’t help. What is your longer term goal? How can you break it down into smaller pieces? Set goals that will help you achieve those, slowly extending your long runs or starting speed workouts once a week. 

Again, the same goes for writing. Focus on what will help you at the moment. Working on a better cover letter doesn’t help if you haven’t started a draft. Again, how can you break it down into smaller pieces? Maybe it’s something as small as writing 10 images or lines of dialogue in your working notebook or file. You can quantify that and pull from those throughout your drafting and revising stages. 

T is for Timely

This brings me back to the beginning and the importance of setting smaller goals. If you set smaller goals, you instantly make them more timely. As we have all seen lately, things change and they can change quite rapidly. Smaller goals can be reached more quickly, keeping them timely. It also enables you adjust the next one to any changes, be it from injury, work, or even weather. 

Some run coaches send out training plans to their clients by month or even week, keeping them focused on the smaller goals. Whether you’re crafting a training plan or writing schedule, do it by 3-4 week block, setting a SMART goal for the end of each. This lets you constantly revisit how you need to adjust to meet your larger goal throughout the entire process, even if your larger goal will take a year or more to meet like for many ultra-runners.

Think of it like units in a class, smaller chunks with a specific goal of an essay, test, or presentation at the end of each unit. Setting small SMART goals within your running or writing routine puts you in control of your path. As you reach each goal, you’ll feel encouraged to reach for the next one.

For me, I’m working by time. I’m going to run 45 minutes for short runs and 90 minutes for long runs for a week or so before getting back to 60 minute weekday runs and 2 hour plus long runs. I’ve made peace with the fact I’ll have to dig my headlamp back out and wake up pre-dawn. I also have a loose schedule of tasks per time of day, like grading in the morning and writing in the afternoon, something I can stick to, with smaller, more specific lists of tasks per week for each class and client.

How can you break things down into achievable and manageable chunks? What Think of it like units in a class, smaller chunks with a specific goal of an essay, test, or presentation at the end of each unit. As you reach each goal, you’ll feel encouraged to reach for the next one. And it’s easier to stick with, which is the secret of any process: just do it!

What SMART goals can you set in your life? If you’ve already used them, how did it go? Tell me in the comments below.

Finding Balance in Running and Life

University of Louisville’s campus, pre-flying squirrel impression.

Life has become hectic lately for me between helping care for my mother post-surgery, teaching, starting a new chapter in my writing career, being a mother and wife, and, of course, running. I was forced to take a step back a couple of weeks ago when I did a flying squirrel imitation, landing on concrete and bruising an upper rib, badly, as well as a forearm when I was running around UofL’s campus. A moment of distraction earned me aches and pains and two weeks off of running and cross training. Tucking my mouthpiece from my bladder into the front pocket of my hydration vest certainly didn’t help as I landed right on it. 

Stepping back made me rethink how I’ve been balancing life lately, quite poorly as a matter of fact. Late nights writing and early mornings running and tending to my mother while trying to be a present parent, partner, and teacher had me wearing myself down without even realizing it. This post will detail 3 things to keep in mind about balancing running and life.

  1. Your body can’t distinguish between types of stress—As coach and founder of SWAP Running (Some Work All Play) David Roche often points out, your body can’t tell the difference between life stress and running stress. We often think it’s the miles wearing us out when the work stress, family stress, sleepless nights, and anxiety are really the culprit. The last two weeks, I did something I haven’t done in forever, I napped. I also read, wrote, baked pretzels and a birthday cake for my husband with my daughter, and, admittedly, watched Hamilton several times. Little aches I had been ignoring are gone with the added rest, and I’ve gotten to spend more time with my family, rather than running around, literally and figuratively, all day. I’ve seen my daughter become an expert on her bike with training wheels, something my husband normally does with her, and gotten so many restorative snuggles from my sweet girl. She’s a good little nurse for a five-year-old, albeit a little forceful with her affection at times. 
  • Time off is okay—I’ve built my mileage up recently to around 35-40 miles a week, some a little less, averaging a little over 150 miles a month for the past four months. I took several months of slowly building up to this mileage, and I saw real gains from it with my pace and perceived effort going down. The trial of miles and consistency served me well. Going from 40 to nothing has been more mentally tough than anything. The extreme heat and humidity the past two weeks made me not too disappointed to have to take time off right now, and the pain the first week made me not even think of trying. This last week, I keep having to remind myself that I’m not losing all of my fitness. Some of it, sure, but not all of it. The gains will come back as I start back and ease my mileage back up. The muscle memory is still there. My body knows what to do. 
  • Running isn’t going away—Whether you take a day off or a week or two off, your running shoes aren’t going anywhere. The roads and trails aren’t going anywhere. It’s still all out there waiting for you. As I’ve been laid up, I keep thinking about how good that next sunrise run on the trails will feel, how different the trails will look. I’m plotting out new routes around my neighborhood, new places to explore. I ordered some new gear from Skirt Sports and some new Ponya Bands, the best non slip headbands and bamboo sweatbands. Instead of focusing on what I’m missing, I’m planning the next adventure. Sure it throws off my 50K trail training (Knobstone Knockout, how did I forget you were rescheduled and not canceled?), but I have plenty of time until mid-October because I had built that consistency in my mileage. Focus on the future, don’t dwell on the present.
Letting the shirt, and new Ponya Band, determine my mood.

This time off due to injury turned out to be, in a way, just what I needed to remind me to bring that balance back to my life. It’s been good for my mind and body as I realized how much stress I had been running off rather than dealing with. I’m looking forward to lacing up my shoes for a trial run later this week, taking it easy as I start back in. This time, I’ll be more mindful of sleep, stress, and getting as many of those little girl snuggles as I can. How do you balance life and running? Tell me in the comments below!