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Training for a race during a pandemic takes a new mindset

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: May 8
  • Published May 8

Months ago, still in cozy midwinter darkness, friends gathered at our kitchen table with glowing screens pulled up and beers in hand. No, we weren’t playing an online game. We were plotting logistics for participating in a relay race I’ve always wanted to run, the Klondike Road Relay.

The road race takes place during peak fall, my favorite time of year. It begins in Skagway and winds through White Pass, British Columbia, throughout the night before ending in Whitehorse, Yukon.

There are 10 segments. The entire race is 175 kilometers (108.74 miles).

We knew we’d need more than just the four of us. But at that point, the race hadn’t even been scheduled yet. We estimated the race date based on prior years. So we started with some unknowns, but knowing how quickly a year can pass we also wanted to commit ourselves to the event and plan vacations/budgeting accordingly.

We blocked off time on our calendars, estimated our overall budget, booked a car and a couple campsites and hotels, and brainstormed about other people who might be interested in joining our team.

My husband was assured he’d get the steepest, longest segments of the race, while the rest of us would draw straws for the princess legs.

We agreed that the race itself would be amazing, but aside from the race/vacation aspect, the big part we were looking forward to the most was training together. We raised our glasses to a summer of running.

Oh, I remember those days of sitting around a table in person with friends. Little did I know.

April rolled around quickly. Our friends are fit (they might quibble with me over this, but I’ve hiked, backpacked and biked with them -- they are fit, or very convincing impostors) but not consistent runners. Back in January, I’d said I would put together a training plan to support all of us in getting in shape for the race, which would need to start earlier for them to build a running baseline.

Working backwards from a September race date, a five-month buildup with baseline-running kicking off in April and more finely tuned training starting in earnest in June seemed right.

I don’t need to tell you that the world has shifted somewhat. For a few weeks (or were they eons?) our Klondike plans hung in the balance opposite other much more imminent concerns.

Did either of us have symptoms? No, aside from the psychosomatic anxiety induced difficulty breathing I experienced one Sunday afternoon after consuming too much news. Did we still have jobs? Yes, thankfully. What was our approach to self-isolation? Stringent -- I have an underlying condition. How were our families doing? Where could we help, at all, during the pandemic?

Etc, etc.

Eventually, while the dust hadn’t exactly settled, the question came up: What were we going to do about the Klondike?

Our friends shrugged, still with beers in hand but now over Zoom. What’s the worst thing that can happen? We get fit over the summer for a race we don’t run?

So, we decided to move forward with training. The next week I took a closer look at the race details, plotted out the segments and came up with a general training plan for all of us that we would later hone once we’d decided on segments.

Since then, we’ve been dutifully following the plan. I watch the modules on the shared Google Doc training plan get checked off every week as our friends built their running base. Now, our long runs are the same distance. Last weekend we parked in the same lot, air-fived over distance, and ran in opposite directions around a 7-mile loop.

As I ran in the sunshine, and pondered this whole concept of training for a race that likely won’t happen.

As of now the race is officially scheduled for Sept. 11-12. There’s little language about the COVID-19 situation, except to note that the race planning was delayed in mid-March due to the ever-changing situation.

It is a challenging time to plan for anything, because now more than ever, next week, next month and even next year is uncertain. It’s an interesting emotional and logistical tightrope to walk.

On the one hand, I already had my week of sitting on the couch mouth-breathing while consuming every bit of coronavirus-related updates I could find -- and that resulted in a mini anxiety attack. So, hitting pause on everything while I wait for life to get back to normal simply isn’t an option.

On the other hand, fixing my hopes and dreams on a race that requires hours of being in a car together, travel through remote places and communities, several international border crossings and reliance on teams of volunteers? It just feels far-fetched to me right now.

So as I ostensibly train for this race, I’m hanging that possibility in the balance of what could happen but also doing my best to simply enjoy the present. Do I want to experience the race? Of course. But in the meantime I’m grateful for my body working, for the sun, and for my friends who are committed to do this with me and are out there exercising, building and moving forward even though so many things a at are at a standstill.

There’s real beauty to that. The striving, while also being present. If there is one thing I will take away from emotional survival during a pandemic it will be how to walk that line of planning for and moving into a future I dream about while simultaneously taking in and enjoying right here and now as best I can.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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