I signed up for the 2020 Pittsburgh Marathon (half) on October 21 of last year. I felt definite FOMO caused by not signing up for any fall races in 2019. The feeling I felt as I watched my friends finish their half and full marathons let me know it was time to start racing again.
By racing, I mostly mean with myself, of course. I set a PR in the half marathon distance in 2014 (2:06:21), and haven’t touched it since. I lost a lot of speed to depression and life over the six-year gap between then and now. In 2019, I started working again on my speed. It’s been a slow and steady process, and I felt like maybe I could PR in May at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, my favorite race.
It didn’t hit me that COVID-19 might start canceling marathons until my spring work travel schedule was altered at the beginning of March. At that point, Tokyo had only limited their marathon to elites and Paris had canceled a half with less than a day’s notice. However, the rate at which conferences, some much smaller in number than the Pittsburgh Marathon, began cancelling at this point made me fear the worst.
Or what I thought was the worst.
Then we started to hear about the news out of Italy, about hundreds of deaths in 24 hours and ICUs overwhelmed with patients. And our schools canceled the formal. And then, a big one, Governor DeWine canceled school for three weeks—at least.
I watched my sons grapple with their losses. I comforted them, allowing them to feel their feelings while assuring them that we would all be okay. I let them know it was totally normal to experience sadness, grief, and loss when things that we had been looking forward to and training for were taken away from us for whatever reason, especially reasons out of our own control.
I don’t think I expected to have to eat my own words.
Once Boston postponed, creating the first ever fall Boston Marathon, I knew it was only a matter of time. I think Pittsburgh was initially banking on time themselves, figuring this would all be over and good before the May 3rd date. As new models warned of an eight week time frame, the date looked less and less plausible.
And here we are.
Pittsburgh made the right choice. The safety of runners is at stake right now. Even if May 3rd becomes a magic date in which we see no new cases of COVID-19, runners who have been training for this race will get sick between now and then, losing their training plans to this virus. There’s no way to run a marathon during or in the immediate aftermath of a global pandemic.
I applaud the Pittsburgh Marathon for offering runners the choice to run virtually or to receive a refund. Many races simply rescheduled and offered the new date, no refund. In the end, I chose the refund, not because I don’t want to support my hometown and my favorite race, but because the farthest virtual race I can see myself doing would be a 5K. I’m doing one next month. (You should, too!)
I sign up for half marathons (and maybe a third full someday) for the overall experience. 40,000 runners push me to run faster. Right now, I don’t believe I can hit anywhere close to the pace I need for 13.1 miles without the challenge and competition that other runners bring. That adrenaline rush, the music, the absolute joy of running the streets of Pittsburgh: those things can’t be recreated on a quiet May morning on the local trail, not even with friends running at least six feet away.
With the refund, I’ll likely pick a fall half marathon. A friend let me know that the Buffalo Marathon runs at the end of May on Memorial Day weekend. I’m going to keep an eye on it, I think.
I’ll take this week easy, retiring this training plan, of which I had not yet missed a single run nor a single day, running my solo mile on rest days to continue my running streak. I’m on Day 295 now. I’ll reevaluate on Sunday, a day that now doesn’t even hold church right now. I will create some new goals to get me through this pandemic and onto the next race.
Will I run 13.1 miles on May 3? Maybe, and definitely alone if I do. But I will run Pittsburgh again. It will forever remain my hometown marathon, an incredible challenge, and my favorite race.