Nine weeks ago, my husband and I moved our family to El Dorado Hills, a suburb nestled in between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. In an attempt to decrease the stress of moving and get acquainted with our new town, I signed up to run the Shamrock Half Marathon in downtown Sacramento. Sunday, March 15 was supposed to be race day.
But unbeknownst to everyone, the COVID-19 epidemic was about to change the world as we know it.
I started training on January 16, 2020. I ran four to five miles every Tuesday and Thursday, incrementally increasing my mileage each Saturday. It was the perfect challenge for me, someone who hadn’t run over three miles in a session for over a decade.
It was hard at first. But week by week, I got my tri-weekly endorphin rush running through my neighborhood and on local trail runs. I couldn’t believe how great I felt, and it lasted all day long.
On Wednesday before the big race, I picked up my jersey and bib at the Fleet Feet in downtown Sacramento, surrounded by hundreds of other excited runners. I imagine they were as disappointed as I was at the cancelation, yet also understanding, considering the current public health crisis.
I imagine other runners were as disappointed as I was at the cancelation, yet also understanding, considering the current COVID-19 public health crisis.
Two days later, we received an email that there would be no race. President Trump had declared a national emergency due to the novel COVID-19. And one by one, businesses, schools, and any events with more than 50 people were canceled. Social distancing became the new norm, practically overnight.
As an emergency room nurse myself, I understand the importance of social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.
But I didn’t want to waste all those arduous weeks of training. So I decided to put on my shamrock jersey and run the half-marathon — all by myself.
By running solo, I could still follow the C.D.C. and W.H.O.’s recommendations to socially distance myself. I was, and still am, feeling isolated and anxious during this unprecedented time. I figured that running was probably one of the safest ways to get exercise and calm my nerves.
My race day started uneventfully. I got up around 6 a.m., sipped on water and a cup of coffee, and then ate breakfast.
I kissed my children goodbye, and I was out the door. I still remember my 2-year-old trying to say, “Good luck, mommy!”
I started running just after 7 a.m. and the sun had barely crept over the horizon. It was grey and dark, but still slightly warm due to a low cloud coverage overhead. There was also a 90% chance of rain by 10 a.m., and I was hoping to beat it. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)
The first mile felt great. I imagined how it would have started if I was running the actual 1/2 marathon. I would have been running with thousands of other runners and spectators celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Many in matching green costumes, knee-high green compression socks, and silly costumes.
It would have been so exciting to embark on this journey as a collective group and celebrate with a green beer after crossing the finish line.
I realized once I hit mile three that I would have probably passed a water station by then. That would have been nice.
From a distance, I heard the smack of a baseball. I turned to see a father and his young son playing in a faraway field. They looked like they were enjoying the morning, being outdoors, while also socially distancing themselves from the world.
Around mile five, I hit one of the short trails runs up a steep hill. As I reached the top, I was greeted with a beautiful overlook of a valley, with a lake in the middle with no one else around to witness. I wished there was someone with me to share the view — so I took a picture and sent it to my family.
For the first time since I started training, I turned off my music and ran in silence. I listened to the wind and my breath and watched the trees swaying. I was fully present with the world around me. For once, I appreciated the quiet.
Another grueling hill was approaching. I tried to focus on the nature around me. I noticed a vast green valley to my left sprinkled with the tips of giant rocks that looked like the tips of icebergs. I imagined how huge those rocks must have been underneath the ground; the way icebergs are incredibly massive beneath the ocean’s surface.
I looked at a small canyon and noticed the trickling streams running through them. How could I have never noticed that before?
But that has always been my life up until this point, always moving faster, doing more, hustling, always optimizing.
When I hit mile seven, I texted my family to let them know I had hit the halfway mark. What followed was a ridiculous series of hilarious yet inspiring GIFs from them that kept me smiling through mile eight.
The roads around my town tend to be hilly, and I reached the top of another one around mile nine. After living in one place for a while, we tend to get so accustomed to the views that the beauty isn’t as noticeable any more. I haven’t lived here long enough yet for that to happen to me. That was one of the things I loved about my weekly training. The beauty was still novel, and it was almost always pretty out, even when the weather was crummy.
By mile 10, I was entirely in my zone. I took a full mental break from the world’s problems around me.
I started to take notice of even more things I’ve never had before. Spring appeared to be sprouting earlier than usual, some of the trees were growing beautiful purple flowers, the landscape was starting to take on a bright green hue, losing the brown tone it had only a week earlier.
I noticed leafy vines reaching their way along the brick fences, like wild-barbed wire, separating the houses from the road.
I felt closer to nature than I had in a decade. I noticed that running was making me more grateful. What could have been an extremely stressful few months in a new town, was replaced by an exciting challenge that I looked forward to each day. I recognized that I needed to run now more than ever, especially since I would be isolated at home, with my little ones, for the foreseeable future.
It was the journey I took through my training, not the destination of race day, that was allowing me to grow. There is so much I can’t control during this scary time in history. But I can do this.
Finally, my sweaty, sticky, and incredibly sore body hit 13.1 miles. I felt a sense of accomplishment and ready to conquer whatever this crazy world could throw at me. If I had stayed home, I would have missed this mind-awakening morning.
It took me a little over 2 1/2 hours to finish my solo half-marathon. I like to think that I took advantage of enjoying a more leisurely run since I wasn’t being pushed harder by a bunch of other runners around me. But I’m just a slow runner.
I enjoyed a 30-minute soak in the tub and then spent the rest of the day indoors, with my husband and children, who were already experiencing a bit of cabin fever. But my endorphin high lasted all day.
And I still got to celebrate with my green beer that afternoon.