My races are usually targets, ones that I work towards and, on race day, I give it my all.  Not during the pandemic.  My training consisted of running and running some more: no speedwork, no tempos, no intervals.  “Why beat my body up if I don’t need to?” I reasoned.  During the pandemic, my focus was overall strength and fitness; I was happy to just be running.

When racing started again, I watched from a distance.  I wasn’t ready – physically or psychologically – to throw myself onto a start line.  The thought of being so close to people, masked or not, made me anxious.  For the past year and a half, I have been healthy; my family has been healthy.  I didn’t want to take any chances.

The 2021 cross-country season changed that.   Under the direction of Athletics Ontario, the races for Ontario Masters followed strict Covid protocols.  But even though I wanted to race, I couldn’t bring myself to register; either my Covid anxiety or lack of confidence in my fitness held me back from doing anything locally.  When I had the chance to race regionals at Fort Henry in Kingston, though, which is one of my favorite race courses, I jumped.  I was ready.  I knew that everyone there – runners, spectators, volunteers – had to be double vax’ed and numbers would be low.  My fitness was good enough.  I wasn’t at all in race shape, but I decided that Fort Henry would be the best place to get back at it and gain a true feeling of where I was fitness-wise.

My 16 year old tagged along for the overnight trip which consisted of a 4 hour car ride, a stop at the famous Big Apple (and, by the way, they have the cleanest bathrooms along the 401), a dinner out with my team, a morning race and a drive back home.  In the less that 24 hours that I spent in Kingston, I got everything that I wanted: a safe and competitive race in which I finished better than expected, 24:02  (4:47/km) on a rolling 5k cross-country course and the much needed reminder of  how much 5K’s really hurt in a good sort of way.  What I really gained from racing, though, was a weekend of feeling normal: time with my son, time with friends, being outdoors in a large group, unmasked (gasp) and running.  It was the best that I have felt since the start of the pandemic.

The weekend gave me hope for more normal days (which seems ironic, in retrospect, as the Omicron variant is now a threat) and confidence in myself.  It has ignited a spark and a drive to push myself again.  Finally, it is time to get back to work and chase my dreams.

(with thanks to Doug Smith and Carol Bedley for the photos)

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