Turn Training Breakdowns to Breakthroughs

Runners share their lessons to help get you through the pandemic – and make you a stronger runner.

The pandemic may have put a pause on your racing, but it doesn’t have to derail your running progress. In fact, it can actually help you optimize your mindset, training and race performance.

"The marathon is a metaphor for life," says Joan Benoit Samuelson, winner of the first women’s Olympic marathon. And it's never been truer that it is now amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are five ways to shift your running mindset and turn the hardest parts of the pandemic into running breakthroughs:

1. Accept Uncertainty

"We don't know what's around the next bend," Benoit Samuelson says. "It may be a promising bend or it may be a challenging bend. But we’ve got to navigate them and keep moving."

Months into the pandemic, the world still has much to learn about the virus. People are faced with uncertainty regarding their physical health and safety, financial stability, future and, yes, races. And in races, the course, no matter how many times you’ve run it or planned it, is full of unknowns.

"Being able to accept, rather than fight, the uncertainty is the only way to move forward," Benoit Samuelson says.

It keeps runners in the present moment. So instead of expending mental energy worrying over unknowns like changing race conditions, they are able to focus on the road directly in front of them, their bodies’ needs and their inner, motivating dialogue. "One bend at a time, one mile at a time, one day at time," she says.

2. Practice Patience

"We all need to be patient," says Benoit Samuelson. "I need to be patient as a marathoner and patient as a person living with a changed lifestyle."

She explains that practicing patience is a skill all runners must master: "You have to be able to hold yourself back in the early stages of a race to better prepare for what might be around the next bend and what you might be feeling like in the final miles," Benoit Samuelson says.

3. Make the Most of What You’ve Got

Running conditions are far from ideal right now, but you can still run.

Mike Sheehy, an Abbott employee, former U.S. Army Ranger and runner whose marathons have been cancelled because of the pandemic explains that focusing on what you’re able to do and what you have is far more beneficial than focusing on the negatives. And that's true both in life and running.

For Liz Yelling, a double Olympian, Commonwealth medalist and running coach, that means exploring new running routes. "At the beginning of the pandemic, my regular run routes were taken up by lots of new runners or runners who normally were working at that time. I wasn't comfortable with the lack of space to social distance, so I created other, quieter routes to go and run where I felt more comfortable."

Going forward with what you’ve got – whether that's running with a mask, a lack of time, physical limits or anything else – will always get you further than waiting for the ideal conditions.

4. Determine Your "Why"

"We often get lost on why we run and what our purpose is," Sheehy says. "But for me, the pandemic has really allowed me to reconnect with why I run. I would encourage others to take the time during their runs to reflect on this too."

Connecting with our "whys," called intrinsic motivators, are critical to both motivation and performance.

Race medals and personal records will come and go, but motivation sticks. What’s yours?

"I'm grateful that I can get out there and keep up with my kids and make sure that they're active and healthy," says Pamela Nisevich Bede, RD, sports dietitian and member of Abbott’s nutrition scientific and medical affairs team and a 24-time marathoner. "Running helps me live my fullest life, be my best self and inspire others."

5. Look for the Silver Linings

Just like in the past, your mindset makes a difference. Raining on race day? "I won’t be hot!" Injury during training? "Now's my chance to come back stronger."

No matter how bad things get, "there are silver linings out there, and you have to keep looking for them," Benoit Samuelson says.

For her, the silver lining around the last few months has been time spent at home, a rarity, as her typical schedule keeps her traveling around the world.

For Sheehy, it’s running with his 13-year-old son. "Typically, we don't run together because I'm training with a bunch of other folks," he says. "But because I’m not right now, he has taken the opportunity to come run miles with me. It has been a lot of fun to bond over, and it's those memories together that will last with me."

Learning to apply gratitude, even in the face of hardship, is pivotal to our health and performance, Sheehy explains.

What's your silver lining right now?

Abbott is the title sponsor of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon, BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon. Click here to learn more.