Breaking out in an outbreak

The pandemic changed my run training. A new approach could help you, too.

By Yon Yilma, WAC Running Coach

As with just about everything else, the pandemic created drastic changes for runners and the running community. In the beginning, no one knew if we could run in small groups, where to run, when mask-wearing was needed. Runners also faced the complete annihilation of their race season. For many, that sapped a ton of motivation.

With so many unknowns and questions running through my mind, I scheduled a virtual meeting with my coach. Yes, running coaches have coaches, too! He advised me to use the pandemic period to work on my strengths and weaknesses. In response, I changed my mindset and set realistic and attainable goals.

Although things were different, I stuck with my normal method of approaching my goals in phases. Phase No. 1 began with figuring out where to run. We were no longer able to run outside with multiple people from different households, so within my run club we created online accountability groups, met on video chat to review workouts, and set up our own home gyms.

Phase No. 2 started with solving the need for mask-wearing. For me, buffs (aka neck gaiters) were the answer. Buffs became a game-changer for my ability to run as they allowed me to breathe easier compared to regular masks. As COVID-19 numbers began to decline last summer, it started to feel safer to be around a very small group of people. Running as a community helps keep me going as the miles get longer. My running group gave me a sense of hope. I was able to run consistently with a couple of the same runners. We learned that meeting for runs as early as 5 am allowed for more distance between us. We also learned that creating new routes was key to avoiding high-volume areas. I enjoyed reimagining my old routines and found energy in change.

Time trials and private club races started during Phase No. 3. Many of us were able to use this period to push our limits and try new methods in our training cycle. In the past, this was harder because there was always a race deadline that required a specific training schedule. Finding limits is unique to every runner. This could mean needing to focus on speed work or increasing mileage or strength. Running during the pandemic allowed us to explore areas of growth we otherwise might not have. This allowed me to progress personally and also to help the runners I coach.

Phase No. 4 was about consistency and hope. Consistency can be a challenge, especially when there is still uncertainty about what a post-pandemic race season might look like. Regardless of our current circumstances, though, runners can stay focused and work toward goals that will improve their running for the short- and long-term.

Let me know if I can help!

—Yon Yilma is a WAC member and the WAC Running Coach. He is a past winner of the Rock ’n’ Roll Seattle Marathon. Reach him at Let him know you’re a WAC member.

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