Socially Distanced Races
With the gradual return of running races across the UK as part of the changing Covid-19 restrictions we are looking at a slightly different world to usual when we race. I thought it might be useful to talk through the experiences of these from my runners so far and top tips as a coach on how to approach them.
The races that are going ahead in person at the moment have a few things in common;
smaller events, 100s, not 1000s of runners attending
socially distanced starts - often meaning staggered start times for runners/batches of runners
aid stations have a different set up or you are asked to bring your own food and drink
no supporters allowed on the course
hanging around/chatting at the start and finish is discouraged
many of the races going ahead at the moment are on trails
The smaller size of most of the events going ahead at the moment can be quite nice, you can get into your own pace, you can enjoy the route and focus on your own run. It brings quite a different atmosphere though, and you lose the performance benefit of being able to pace yourself with others and the some of the social benefit of running along in a group chatting - without noticing the distance you are covering as much!
With that in mind, and if you know you get a lot out of that camaraderie/rivalry with other runners, it’s useful to have some other tactics to use to help focus and pacing etc. Things like Mantras, a race plan and focussing on your form can really help. In reality I’ve found that many runners looking to push their times do miss out on that “edge” that a normal race environment gives, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t hit that PB!
Socially distanced starts
The staggered starts plays into the point above, meaning it’s less likely to see/get into step with other runners. The atmosphere at the start as also changed as a result. It’s often not a big deal when you set off, not cheers etc. One runner mentioned to me that “it felt flat”; that can have a performance impact as adrenaline is a performance enhancing drug!
There are also logistics at play making sure you have the right start time in advance, know the event logistics and rules. Have time to navigate any new arrangements, but aren’t hanging around too long.
Some runs my runners have done recently have had minimal, distanced aid stations, some you’ve had to bring your own nutrition which gets placed out in numbered bags, others have no aid stations at all and ask that you bring your own food and drink. The first step is to research what the case is for your race and plan/practice accordingly. Taking the water you need is especially important if it’s not provided, and having time to practice carrying what you need yourself.
No supporters on course
That lack of encouragement, missing the lift of seeing family or friends and the reduce opportunity for some extra jelly babies can add up in longer races. The crowds and things going on can often be a welcome distraction too. Prepare yourself with some other things to distract you, from music and podcasts (if that’s allowed on the race) to eye spy, counting or maths games and lottery house/car shopping (my personal favourite!).
Socialising at the start and finish
A big part of the race scene is the social side, so it’s sad that pre and post races chats/drinks are no longer allowed. Plan something rewarding for after the race to help, some favourite food or a relaxing afternoon/hot bath etc when you get home. Perhaps even a video chat with people to share how the race went?
Most of the races my runners have been doing recently have been on trails. It’s easier to distance from residential areas and avoid crowded places. If you’ve trained for this or you often run on trails it’s fine. I’ve seen a few challenges where runners don’t usually run on trails at all and sign up to a trail race because it’s the only one going ahead locally. Last minute trail shoe purchases aren’t ideal and it’s best to give your body time to adapt to the new surface in training really. If you aren’t able to don’t be surprised about the different post run muscle soreness, and the higher risk of turning an ankle.
That said I hope it will open the eye of many runner to the joys of running on trails and being out in nature with the benefits it can bring!