By: Carolyn Macduff

I stepped on the starting pad of the Race to the Cave Half Marathon in Woodville, Alabama, with 674 other runners this past weekend. Running an official race was something I hadn’t done since early February of 2020, and I wasn’t sure if I should celebrate the fact that I was here, or scream because I was surrounded by so many people. Yes, the organization had us placed into waves. Yes, I had been vaccinated. But, that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t know how to feel after a year of not having this opportunity. At exactly 8:20am, the Race Director said “Go!”, and it didn’t matter what I felt before then. It was time to race again.

I was one of those lucky ducks that got COVID-19. I had contracted it in December from a speech therapy client. My side effects weren’t considered extreme, but it was enough that I began wondering about those who were hooked up to ventilators and worse, losing the battle completely. I knew COVID-19 was real, but it wasn’t real to me until I had experienced it. I was careful. I did all the right things. Unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn’t sit at a table and draw out who to attack next. 

After contracting COVID-19, I couldn’t run more than a minute without having to stop and catch my breath. Everything my running coach, Alfonso Gonzalez, Jr., and I had been working towards all of a sudden felt like it was for not. It has been an adventure getting back to 100%, but my race this weekend proved that things are heading in the right direction. If you’ve had even a touch of COVID-19 or have been affected mentally, emotionally, financially, or physically in any way this past year, you’ve got my utmost sympathy and grace. This year has sucked, and no one’s story should be dimmed. 

Let’s discuss a word from the previous paragraph for a second: mentally. If we’ve all experienced one thing, it’s a decline in mental health. I’ll be the first to tell you when all of my races got cancelled in 2020, my anxiety went up. I felt like my runs, thoughts, and all of 2020 were just empty. I stopped going to training runs with my team, I had trouble getting out of bed, and I just wanted to curl into a ball. COVID-19 almost took my hope, my dreams, my motivation. I’m someone who fights anxiety by being productive, but I felt like my social plate was so empty, and my mental health tanked. 

The thing I realized the other day is this: everyone is craving normalcy again. Everyone needs things to look forward to again. Even if that means having coffee on a patio or getting in a run with someone like you at the end of the week, reader. Little by little, I slowly began to peak out of my sad mental blanket burrito and reach out to people. The people that love you will never leave, no matter how many times you cancel plans or burrow. And you know what? That alone should provide a little source of light. Your training team will keep inviting you to events, at lease one of your friends will be there to bring over soup or tacos, and yes, your running shoes will always be there to be laced up and taken for a few miles. Do any of these and more when you’re ready. 

COVID-19 has been tough. I’m not going to grab a megaphone and run around yelling “You’ve almost made it! You can do it!” just because we have a vaccine out and races are happening again. False positivity is not the way things are going to get better. I encourage you to start listing the practical things, the events you can change for the better, the negative thoughts that can be eliminated. And, I stress-do this when you’re ready- start showing up for a group run, cooking class, or whatever brings you joy. Marie Kondo mindset, people. I get this last year has been hard, but remember that staying in the dark will not make things easier. Start with one thing and build. And one day, you’ll sign up for that race that’s been given the green light to happen. Your feet will feet the starting pad. I then encourage you to start your watch, take a step, and get back to racing. 

A person running on a street

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