Why race directors shouldn’t feel bad when canceling their events for COVID-19

The recent coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19, has disrupted life as we know it, and at the moment it often feels confusing and frustrating about how to react. One of the things that has happened over the past week are many running events being cancelled, alongside other major sporting events. This can be a very frustrating and stressful thing for people who have been looking forward to their event, and can result in some backlash. However, as a race director myself, I wanted to share my perspective on why RD’s shouldn’t feel bad if they need to cancel their event.

Let’s start off with the squishy stuff. Being a race director is stressful and hard work. You’re pouring yourself into an event that you hope brings people joy and happiness. Nothing makes an RD happier than when they see people smiling as they cross the finish line. You can see the everyday stress of life melt away as you send people off into the woods to run free. It’s a truly wonderful thing.

The last thing that any race director wants to do is put people at risk. No race director wants to send out an email after an event to let people know that something might have happened at the event that would put them in danger. There’s not a single RD that I know who would want to send out an email informing folks that they may have been exposed to a sickness. That worry taints everything about the event, and it’s the opposite of why RD’s do what they do.

But apart from “feelings” and “worry”, let’s look at a couple of practical issues. Many people don’t realize just how difficult it is to maintain any type of cleanliness and sanitization in a race environment. First off, the aid station tables are havens for germs and bacteria. Many races have gone to single-serving cups of food items which helps a lot, but it’s not foolproof. I’ve been to more than one aid station where runners will grab a small cup of food, bring it to their mouth and dump it in, and then put the cup back down on the table to be re-used. The volunteers might not even notice this and think it’s an empty cup waiting to be filled.

Volunteers should also be wearing gloves when dealing with food as much as possible, but this doesn’t prevent spreading through coughs and sneezing. Plus, volunteers are often called upon to help runners with their equipment, packs, and physical needs, and can end up touching all manner of bodily fluids.

Then there’s the actual runners themselves, who are fond of blowing snot rockets, end up with runny noses and coughs from exertion, and generally spread their bacteria all over their vicinity. It’s simply the nature of being active and exerting oneself. The exposure is less on a longer race course where people are spread out, but in shorter, more compact races, many runners are always in a crowd of people.

Even despite precautions, it’s very common for RD’s to get sick a few days after an event with some type of virus. They’ve depleted their immune system through stress, and just exposed themselves to a lot of things. But it’s simply a part of the experience for many, and we understand the nature of how this works.

Now that I’ve said a lot of gross stuff, let me say one very important thing.

For the most part this is all fine.

I’m not a doctor, but I believe and have been taught that human beings are amazing creatures with a developed immune system that takes care of the majority of what we encounter. For the majority of people, it’s not the end of the world when we encounter common germs and other bacteria. We have the capability to fight them off. That’s because our immune systems have learned over our lifetimes how to fight off the majority of things that we’ve encountered. COVID-19 is new. There’s a reason it’s called a “novel” virus, because we’ve never seen it before.

Until we can catch up and figure out how to vaccinate and better treat COVID-19, we’re in a very vulnerable spot as a species. We’re at an inflection point where we need to allow our bodies, and science, to develop the defenses that we need to combat this new threat. But that takes time. The only way to stop our medical system from getting overrun is to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible, so that we can catch up. Practicing social distancing, staying away from large gatherings, and limiting where we go, for a couple of weeks is HUGE to stopping the mass spread of the illness.

That’s why it’s OK that races have to be postponed, and race directors shouldn’t feel bad about that. None of this running and racing stuff is SO important that it’s worth risking someone’s health over. We’re all doing this because we have a passion for it (trust me RD’s don’t make much of money, if any). So, let’s cut race directors some slack and let them make the right choices for the time in which we’re living. In a few weeks things will start going back to normal and life will continue on. There’s lots more races to run, so let’s make sure we all get to the start line together.

A decade of running

January of 2010 was the start. It’s hard to believe that it was so long ago, but the end of 2019 also marks the end of my first 10 years of running. I could never have imagined when I started this journey how consuming it would become, and how much of my identity would be shaped by it.

When I first started running it was mostly to get in shape and lose some weight. In 2010 I was really struggling with my health and well being. All my friends saw it, and when my friend Michael finally pushed me over the edge to do something about it I wasn’t sure if I could actually stick to it. I picked up the Couch-2-5K program and hit the treadmill for my very first workout. It’s a simple alternating run/walk system that slowly, over weeks, built up running stamina until you could run 3 miles straight.

I’m not going to lie. That first week was brutal. So much so that I repeated week 1 a second time before moving on. It didn’t help that I still had a lot of weight to lose, as carrying around more than you need is never a good idea. I believe it was somewhere in week 6 or 7 when everything changed.

By this point I had moved to doing my runs mostly outdoors, with more spring like temperatures. I headed out on a run which was supposed to include my longest segments of uninterrupted running I had done yet. I did the warm up intervals and then looked at my watch before starting the continuous running segment. At the time I was still using headphones when I ran and there was music going on in the background. I remember zoning out while listening to a couple songs and before I realized it I had gone way beyond what I was targeting. I got done with the whole workout and was in shock. I had just run longer than I ever had before. That was the moment that sealed the deal. I was a runner. I could do this.

29048_427624055361_4550976_n.jpgAfter that point, working up to a 5K distance wasn’t hard. I did my first 5K in May of 2010, and my first half marathon that fall. Running simply became a part of my life. Throughout those early years I did a lot of races in the half marathon range, and attempted one full marathon (that I hated). I got into a groove of doing a few repeat races each year, and was building up my collection of race medals and t-shirts. But running did more for me than just stuff my closets, it also gave me a connection to others via which my life was forever changed.

In 2012 I was still playing the online dating game, and when my (future) wife Lisa and I connected, one of the key things we bonded over was running. We had both come to running later in life and had transformed our lives in a positive way through running, weight loss, and fitness. Even though we ran different paces, we still enjoyed sharing our love of being runners and supporting each other.

A couple of years later we were both still running on roads, but we had started to become aware of trail running. My friend John had started dipping his toes into the trail and ultra world, and Lisa had been following the sport for a while. In the end of 2014 she encouraged me to join her for a small trail run at a farm an hour away. Trail running has an ethos of beer and beards, and so I immediately fit right in.

IMG_3157.JPGOnce I had completed that race I joined up with a local trail running group at Elm Creek, and January 31st, 2015 started the next big change in my running life. I immediately fell into the sport and signed up for trail races beginning in April. However, I was also learning the ethos of the sport, and how you give back to the community, not just take. My first Zumbro experience involved volunteering the first day at the aid station in the woods before running the 17 mile the next day.

31880916_1004097819714989_4681658212569579520_n.jpgFrom there, things just progressed bigger and bigger. Since then I’ve run a multiple 50K’s, a 50 miler, a 100K, and a 100 mile trail race. It took me 5 years to work up to 100 miles on trails, but because of that it went amazingly. I’ve also become a part of the community, joining the board of directors for the Upper Midwest Trail Runners association, for which I’m just starting my final 3 year term of service.

My wife and I have also started a small company to put on events, and in a week we’ll have hosted our second edition of the St Croix 40 Winter Ultra. We’re also excited about putting on even more events in the coming years, and spend a lot of time thinking and planning about what we could do next.

IMG_3228.jpgApart from events our running has also given us an opportunity to explore places all over the country. Every time we vacation, running is a part of it. I’ve run along the ocean in Seattle, through the desert in Vegas, and countless trails throughout the Midwest. I’ve had some incredible experiences getting lost in the middle of nowhere.

As I look forward to the next decade of running, I’m asking myself what’s next? I’ve picked up biking as a complementary sport, and I’m finding that trail running has been a great gateway to creating adventures outside. I’m not planning on giving up running, but I think I’ll be seeking a bit more balance in my fitness. I’m also considering adding in some run-commuting, as I’m keenly interested using many different modes to reduce my carbon footprint.

I’ll be starting out my first year of my new decade of running with a bit lighter race schedule. I’m signed up for a lottery for a short 12.5K race (because I want to see the area), and will also be doing a trail marathon, along with my traditional Surf the Murph loop. I’ll plan one other big race for the year, but then try and focus on expanding my versatility. I’ve decided that I don’t want to give up on sled pulling in winter ultras quite yet.

IMG_0495.JPGAs I look back, it’s crazy to think that it’s only been 10 years since I started this because it feels like this has been my life since I can remember. I’m hugely grateful to the folks who gave me encouragement when I first started out, and along the journey. Never doubt the power of influence, but more importantly, never doubt yourself and your capabilities. I was the poster child for “someone who doesn’t run”. Yet here I am.

Here’s a snapshot of the last 10 years:

Recorded activity count: 1,571
Total dist: 8,903 mi
Total elev: 317,396 ft
Total time: 1812:27:06
Total calories burned: 1,297,274

I couldn’t be more happy with where I’ve been, where I’m at, or where I’m going.

It’s just one foot in front of the other.

2019 Running Year in Review

The year 2019 is my tenth year of running, and is seems appropriate that I celebrate that milestone with a bang. I’ll be writing a retrospective post on the past decade in a few days, but for the moment I want to spend a little time looking back at just this past year, and how I’ve grown and changed as a runner.

After a couple of down years, 2018 was a strong year for me. I found my groove and figured out how to get back to loving running. I continued that trend into 2019 and decided to tackle some challenges that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. In fact, 2019 blew the doors off of anything I’ve done in previous years.

DSC02628I started out the year with something fun and stupid, the Sandlot Minor League Half-Marathon. That means 13.1 miles around a baseball diamond. It was crazy and my right hip hurt for 2 weeks after that. However, it was fun to get out and support some of my crazy friends.

In May things got more serious with The Willow 20 mile race. This was a newer race on the scene put on by veteran race director Chris Swenke. He does a great job with his races, and this one was no exception. It was a fun course, and I had a great time. It wasn’t the fastest 20 miles I’ve ever done, but I enjoyed myself which is what counts.

bt-trail-races-341From there it was time to really get down to business. That’s because I decided to sign up for my first ever 100K race, the Badger 100K. This is a race put on by the Ten Junk Miles crew who are friends of mine. I’ve wanted to do a rail trail for a while, and this looked like the perfect excuse. It also had a super generous cutoff (over 30 hours) which meant I could take as long as I needed. I didn’t need the full 30, and finished under 18, with a lot of learning in my head to take with me into the future.

I put that to the test when two weeks later I did the Marquette 50K. Since I was still recovering from Badger, I didn’t go into Marquette with any big time goals in mind. I had signed up for Marquette the past two years, but for one reason or another never made it out there. This time my friend Mike make sure I showed up. Expect for climbing Hogsback, this race was a ton of fun, and I encouraged my wife to sign up for the 2020 version. It’s just the kind of course that she’ll love. Plus, I get to tag along and spend some time visiting the town next year.

fabdd329-48b1-43f9-8e24-b59bafaac483All of this led to my biggest accomplishment of 2019 which was my first 100 mile race at the Savage 100. This course was the site of my first ultramarathon distance and so it was appropriate to mark this milestone here. The race went as perfectly as I could have hoped, and I was tremendously proud of how well I worked myself up to this. Now that I’ve broken the 100 mile barrier, I can see myself making a few more attempts at that in my lifetime.

Finally, I’m finishing out the year with the Tuscobia 80, my first winter ultramarathon. It’s ironic that the whole reason I started the St Croix 40 Winter Ultra was because there was no place for people to get experience with winter ultras without stepping up to the 80 mile distance. Yet, now here I am doing the 80 myself. Unfortunately, the race didn’t go as well as I hoped and I dropped at mile 35. My back wasn’t tolerating pulling the sled, so I have some things to work on in the future.

img_4937As with last year, a large part of my training was done running with my wife. That meant I was moving a little slower than normal for me, which really helped me with the long slow slogs of the 100K and 100 mile. It helped me build up endurance instead of just speed (which I’m pretty much given up on ever having in abundance again).

img_5369As an added bonus, we also got to spend time pacing friends on their races. We headed to Lake Tahoe to help Julie with the Tahoe 200 and then headed right to Colorado for Mike’s 100 mile race in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. All of this work built up the tools that I needed to make this an amazing year.

When all is said and done, this was a massive year for me. Even with my DNF at Tuscobia I managed 6 ultra distance events between racing and pacing. I’ve never attempted more than 2 in a year before. In hindsight, it was probably too many, and my goals for next year will be a bit more reasonable. I need to remember to balance out my desire to “do everything” with the realities of burn-out.

I’m not finishing the year with as much mileage as last year, but I’m OK with that. Combined with all the extra biking that I did, this was still my most active year ever. I’m learning to find that balance with biking, running, and hiking, that makes me a well rounded outdoors person, not just a runner. I’m loving looking for adventures, and I want to be ready for them, whatever mode of transport is required.

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Lessons learned from a Tuscobia DNF

My plan was to pull my sled for 80 miles from Park Falls to Rice Lake. I made it 35 miles before I had to pull the plug, registering my first winter ultra DNF.

So what went wrong? It almost all came down to my back. I’ve never pulled a sled for 30+ miles before and despite switching out to a different harness this year, I still wasn’t able to take the pain. I have scoliosis which complicates my situation, as my lower back curves and twists off to the right. Normally it’s just an annoyance during a long run, but in this case, pulling a sled, it became completely unbearable. I’m not sure what this means for future attempts, but I know that I need to either figure out a way to strengthen my back for endeavors like this, or look at alternatives such as biking or kicksleding.

Despite having to register a DNF, I’m still incredibly happy with how much of the race went. My legs were a little tired, and my feet only had one blister. This is completely manageable and nothing more than I’d get in any other ultra. My clothing was dialed in, and my new Gore-Tex shoes were perfect for the incredibly wet conditions. When I came into the Ojibwa checkpoint people asked me what needed to be dried out. Amazingly, I was almost completely dry. That’s how well my clothing plan worked, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

img_0495My pace was right on track for what I wanted it to be as well. I was aiming for a 10-12 hour journey to Ojibwa, and I got there just slightly after 11 hours. I executed my pace precisely where I wanted it to be, which is phenomenal. The course conditions were wet and soft, which meant that as the race progressed I got slower and slower. The fact I was able to maintain as long as I did is a huge win for me.

So what other lessons did I learn to take into the future? One of the biggest was that I overpacked. I didn’t bother to weigh my sled until I got home, and then realized how much of a burden I was carrying. My pulk weighed in at 41 lbs. which is way more than it needed to be. I packed far too much food and water, especially since I had a 2 liter water bladder on my back. I also carried 2 more pounds of water that I never touched in the 35 miles I was out there. That was just more added weight on my back.

I also doubled up on jackets, and didn’t need nearly as many as I had. All total I had 4 jackets: my puffy for emergencies, a sweat jacket, a lightweight shell, and a heavy weight shell. I most certainly should have ditched the sweat jacket, and might have been able to get away with just the heavy weight shell. In addition to jackets I packed 7 pairs of wool socks. However, with my Gore-Tex shoes, I never changed my socks once in 35 miles, and my feet were dry at Ojibwa. Knowing how well my shoes performed I could have dropped the number of socks to 3-4. I also carried way too many shirts and tights.

I could have easily shaved 10-15 lbs, off of my sled, without even touching on a lighter sleeping bag or lighter sled. That type of weight could have relieved a lot more pressure from my back, and perhaps have made things slightly more tolerable. I don’t think it would have changed the overall outcome in any way, but it might have reduced my suffering a slight bit.

Yet, there was one piece of equipment that I wish I had brought along; a small pair of snowshoes. The trail got to be very soft, and my feet would often punch through the groomed trail. My regular snowshoes are way too big, but a small, lightweight pair of kid sized snowshoes could have been perfect. The snow was already well packed down, so I just needed a couple extra inches around my shoes to keep me afloat.

Finally, the biggest thing I could have done differently is simply not trying to accomplish SO much in a single calendar year. In 2019 I ran 6 ultra distances between races and pacing gigs. I’ve never even come close to that in the past. After my 100 mile race my training went into the crapper, and Tuscobia became “one more thing” that I really should have realized wasn’t going to work. My body needed time to heal, plus I needed more time to get in more specific training. I needed to figure out this back issue sooner, and determine if it can even be changed or worked around, of it I need to move on to something else besides pulling a sled.

That’s the more detailed run-down of what happened at Tuscobia. Overall, I’m happy with it despite the result not being what I wanted. I can’t stress enough how much I love all of these people, and love seeing them ever year. Even if it’s just volunteering, I can’t wait to get to these events and spend time with people who love the same things I love. No matter what happened this weekend, or what may happen in the future, I know I’ve found a great community.

 

Fitness week recap – 12/2/2019

Week Starting 12/2/2019
Running:
 14.3 miles
Biking:
 33.4 miles
Steps: 68.787
 (34.33 miles –  20.03 walking)

Impression: Two weeks ago was vacation week for me and my running and biking was pretty much non-existent. This last week though I got back on the horse a bit and got in a solid week of runs. None of them were double digit, but I’m OK with that. I’ve been dealing with a knee niggle, so I’m trying to not push things too much.

I did manage my longest fat bike ride ever though on Global Fat Bike day, totaling out at over 18 miles. That long on the fat bike has shown me though that I need to make a few adjustments. Some things aren’t as comfortable as I would like them to be.

Next week I need to get into serious sled pulling. Tuscobia is coming up soon and I’m still trying to ride my fitness level from earlier this year. We’ll see how this goes…