In challenging times, Of all the communities within the sport of athletics, mountain runners spend more time outdoors than most

So when restrictions for outdoor activities and exercise are introduced, as has been the case in recent weeks during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been particularly challenging to maintain a decent level of fitness for runners who routinely log anywhere between 100 to 200 kilometres per week.

The World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) spoke to some of the world’s leading mountain runners and found that what united them all was a stronger sense of community and a feeling that this crisis puts running into perspective.

Francesco Puppi, the 2017 world long distance mountain-running champion, describes the situation in Italy.

“Life has changed drastically,” he said. “Everyone is supposed to stay at home and avoid social contacts as much as possible: it's the only weapon we have to fight the virus, and we don’t know how long all this will go on.

“Running is permitted but only under particular circumstances. I am currently training, just at a slightly lower intensity than before. I think everyone in this situation should have the sensibility to understand if, when and how to run. It should be done with discretion and care. This is a form of respect for those who are suffering.

“It doesn’t mean that all the work I did has been wasted,” adds Puppi, who had been due to compete at the Rotterdam Marathon. “I am still proud of what I managed, of the big effort I put into those 110-mile weeks, the sore legs, the long workouts, of the improvements and setbacks I’ve experienced on this journey. It’s just a matter of re-thinking our goals.

“Keep on running because this is something we love and makes us feel good, even in the worst situation.”

For 2019 WMRA World Cup winner Andrew Douglas, the situation in the UK, and in his home nation of Scotland, is ‘rapidly changing’.

“I’m just trying to appreciate every chance I get at the moment to put my trainers on and head out for a run,” said Douglas, who is anticipating the introduction of stricter measures like those in Spain, France and Italy.

“Undoubtedly it’s disappointing to see this having such a profound impact on races, but personally the effect it has on me pales in comparison to the much bigger issues facing society, so ultimately it’s just about getting some perspective. I had my best ever season last year so that’s something I’m fortunate to be able to have at the back of my mind.

“Like most people, I have not experienced anything like this in my lifetime, so as much as my working environment is changing, my training at the moment is the one ordinary thing I can rely on for the moment in these extraordinary times.”

“When pubs are closed in Ireland, then it's definitely serious,” said Irish runner Zak Hanna.

“The mountains aren't going anywhere any time soon, so just keep calm, weather the storm and we will all come through this. As the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, ‘Let it be said that when things were at their worst, we were at our best’.”

Mimmi Kotka, who is from Sweden but lives in France, is into her third day of confinement. The 2018 Marathon du Mont Blanc winner is allowed to exercise outdoors but must stay close to home. “You have to carry a certificate for this too, stating where you live and what your errand outside is,” she says. “Adjusting to new circumstances is part of being human; we need to deal with it. If you’re healthy, be grateful for that. And this is about doing what’s right; after all, running is a leisure activity.”

“In order not to clog up extra resources in hospitals, we're not allowed to go very high up into the mountains,” adds Britain’s Sarah Tunstall, who is based in France. “The mountain rescue teams and workers who control the avalanches at this time of the year are also isolating so it makes the mountains especially dangerous.”

British mountain runner Natalie White, who is currently based in northern Italy, one of the hardest hit areas, says: “Doing our part is going to help not just ourselves but others. Some areas are allowing runners to go out, but close to home and solo. That in itself is a positive to be grateful for.”

It’s not just the athletes who are affected either. Competition organisers have also been hit by the crisis. US runner Max King, who is also race director of the recently cancelled Bend Marathon, asks his fellow athletes for their understanding in these difficult times.

WMRA Council member Nancy Hobbs urges runners to practise social distancing. “It is challenging when running with someone else to not speak, of course, and the further apart you get from someone, the harder it is to communicate,” she says. “However, doing track workouts with friends can be modified. Being creative is the key.

“One of the most important things is to check in with your running friends,” adds Hobbs. “It’s crucial to support one another.”

posted Monday March 23rd
by World Athletics