Doing it by yourself is never as good as the real thing. I’ve tried to explain this to my wife but she just doesn’t get it, doing it by myself doesn’t feel the same. It becomes boring when other people aren’t involved. The shared sweat the panting, because running with other people is good craic. It makes us better in a way that can’t be achieved alone. It drags us out the door, off the couch when it’s the last thing we feel like doing. We all have a competitive spirit, most will deny it, but they do. When you want a five year old to do something just say “I’ll time you” and boom off they’ll rocket, because they want to beat the clock. Yes competition is one of my go to parenting tools, I use my kids competitive tendency to get things done, and I do it all the time. Many recreational runners deny competitive tendencies…… “Oh no I’m not competitive, I just like to get out and run”…….. This is lies, in fact its pure rubbish!
Runners love a test, a race to see where they’re at. Yes we love chasing down a personal best time , a longer distance, beating rivals and friends. Good opposition encourages athletes to work towards improving, and to suffer in order to beat each other or a time. But for all the right reasons the sporting calendar from local 5km fun runs to professional sports leagues have shut down. All our races, and group training sessions have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Luckily running is a solitary sport that can be done on quiet roads, trails and even treadmills respecting social distancing. Almost every runner out there has had races that were cancelled and have been left without goal races in the near future. We don’t know when this situation is going to end, so how do runners stay motivated. With an inbox full of race cancellation notifications something strange happened. The running community stepped up, and we started to get emails about races we could run It is still possible to race thanks to the likes of local race event management companies POP UP RACES (www.popuoraces.ie) and Just Runs Events (www.justrunsevents.com) amongst others having set up virtual runs. Enter online making a commitment, race by yourself on quiet routes or trails and then upload your time and get a result. But always knowing that the results will be posted and even prizes handed out. It’s the motivation needed to push hard even when not surrounded by other runners.
Virtual racing isn’t anything new, its popularity had exploded well before Covid-19 hit, mostly because of its flexibility. Its main advantage is its convenience but there is others. There are no parking problems. No crowds. No long Porta loo lines. There is no start gun or nervous, pre-race chitchat with other runners. You choose your own starting line. It’s undoubtedly true that virtual races simply can’t deliver the same race day atmosphere, the community or the camaraderie of races. But it still gives you a voice in the back of your head in the last 5 mins of a hard race …. Just to keep going, because you have to upload a time! Even better if a friend or a running rival is entered. A large-scale “archival” study of long-distance running found that runners ran faster in races featuring their rivals by almost five seconds per kilometre! (Kilduff, 2014).
An extreme example comes from Canada, “Welcome to the Quarantine Backyard Ultra” A Free Backyard Ultra, completed in self-isolation or quarantine, streamed live on YouTube. Runners will compete for the soon to be World’s most coveted prize: The Golden Toilet Paper Roll! Participants will connect to the race through Zoom, and a bell will ring every hour. The runners must cover 4.167 miles every hour on their loop course of choice – balconies, back yards, kitchens, fields. When you finish the distance, simply point the camera at your watch or treadmill to prove you completed the distance, and then you are free to relax, eat or do any other things you need to prepare for the next lap. You must be back in your start line when the bell rings to start the next loop…….. BONG and off you go. The first bell will rang at 7:00am Mountain Daylight Time (GMT-6) on Saturday April 4th, and the race will finished when there was only one runner left on the livestream. To see who goes the distance go to personalpeak.ca/quarantinebackyard/.
It has been known since as early as 1908 that in order to improve we must step out of our “comfort zone” and enter a state of relative anxiety (Yerkes and Dodson, 1908). The comfort zone is a region in which actions and performance fit into habitual behaviour thereby reducing pressure and risk – it’s easier to sit on the couch, stick within your 5k distance, not push harder. Yes, this offers mental security and possibly ensures low anxiety and reduced stress levels, but improvements don’t live here. Acute stress – short-lived, not chronic – primes the brain for improved performance. Our brains and bodies perform better when our stress hormones are slightly elevated provided it doesn’t cause physical tension – we need to be a bit scared to run quickly (Kirby et al., 2013). Being able to feel the anxiety of competition, but control and channel it, is ideal for optimizing performance. Comfort brings boredom and monotony, it is short sighted and sluggish. Yet we now strive to achieve it. Embrace our competitive nature and race even if the only one in the race is yourself. I’ll let you know how the quarantine backyard Ultra went next week!
Kilduff, G. J. (2014) ‘Driven to Win: Rivalry, Motivation, and Performance’, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(8), pp. 944-952.
Yerkes, R. M. and Dodson, J. D. (1908) ‘The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation’, Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18(5), pp. 459-482.