Josh Sadlock is a Chaski coach with experience ranging from the mile to the marathon. A runner since high school, Josh hated the idea of running at first but grew to love it and has since found success at the collegiate level (running for Lafayette College) and post-collegiately in the marathon. While 2020 was not ideal for anyone, Josh reflects on how he utilized the opportunity to rejuvenate his training.
Last January, I decided to do something I hadn’t done since 2013 – enter an indoor track meet. I was going up to Penn State with the intention of getting my doors blown off by a bunch of college guys. It was a relatively unremarkable performance on my part. I think I ran 15:10 after getting sucked out through the mile in 4:40. What was memorable from this Friday afternoon trip up to State College was the chatter on the radio and social media about a handful of unconfirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York and Chicago.
Coronavirus seemed like nothing to worry about at the time, but I wasn’t privy to any double secret congressional briefings, so I didn’t sell all of my stocks and bet the house on Zoom and Moderna. Insider trading aside, none of us could have predicted (while listening to "It’s 15 cases and pretty soon it’s going to be zero. We’ve done a tremendous job, believe me") how much our lives would be affected by the pandemic in the past year.
Thinking about running in a year where millions of people lost their jobs, saw their businesses shut down, waited in line for food, faced eviction or suffered devastating illness feels selfish, and maybe it is. But to many of us, running and testing our bodies at a high level is part of our identity and makes us who we are. It became clear early on in the pandemic that it would be a long time before we’d be able to go back to our normal racing calendar with thousands of runners taking to the streets.
Early on in the pandemic, I tried to train as if life would be back to normal by the summer and there would be a full slate of races the rest of the year. Obviously, that hope was wrong. From there, it became a battle to get motivated to do actual training and get out the door every day. This wasn’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but I found a way to get creative and enjoy virtual races and time trials. My thinking was that eventually, there would be races to target and put on the schedule, and I would be ready.
I learned a lot about myself as a runner and person throughout the final nine months of 2020. First, it’s ok to struggle to find motivation as a runner. More than a few Olympic-caliber runners expressed their own bouts with struggling to get excited for the abstract thought of a championship race next summer. There’s a lesson we can all learn from runners like Scott Fauble who took several months to begin running serious workouts after the Olympic Trials – let your body tell you when it’s ready. You’ll perform better when your mind and body are in sync. Running needs to be enjoyable to maximize performance, especially when it’s not your job to chase fast times.
Personally, 2020 turned into a year of exploration and experimentation as a runner. Knowing that I could just take a day off whenever I needed to with no real peak race to train for, I ran hard on days I’d normally shuffle, tapped gears and paces in workouts I hadn’t felt since college and tried to make things fun for myself. Runners have a tendency to internalize every single interval, workout, long run and mile and analyze them to death. This year gave those of us who are in the sport a chance to disengage from all of that extra mental strain that comes with stressing over every entry in our training log – at least it did for me.
I am more excited about being a runner and training as I head into this next year than I have been since I was in my early twenties. There will be real races to run again in 2021, but I’ll approach them with a newfound excitement and carefree attitude. And of course, I’ll still be looking forward to time trials with the boys on a random Saturday morning. Last year helped me get back in touch with my raw enjoyment of being a runner, just putting on the shoes and letting your legs flow across the pavement as fast as they can just because they can.
This year is going to be a big year for all of us as runners, and I’m hoping you can draw on some of the lessons I learned this year to get the most joy and excitement out of your training, regardless of what the clock says on race day.