If you’re wondering what being a pro athlete looks like during a pandemic, the answer is weird.
Really. Frickin’. Weird.
Glancing at our schedule day-to-day, not a lot has changed around ZAP. I feel somewhat guilty about it, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve been a fairly isolated, self-sufficient little commune from the beginning. It’s hard to wallow in loneliness when your quarantine-mates are six of your closest friends and training partners. Even our daily practice routine is remarkably unaffected, since we tend to run in sparsely peopled areas (though we’ve had to exercise more caution as the weather warms).
Zooming out, the changes become more pronounced. For the first time in ZAP’s history, our board has had to pull the plug on at least two months’ worth of camps. It was unquestionably the right decision; and yet, it still sucks. Camps are an integral part of being a ZAP athlete, and the thought of a summer with no reshuffling breakfast duties, no chatting on the breezeway late into the night, no creeper trail picnics, no Bear, and, devastatingly, no Chef Mike lasagna(!) is a huge loss for us – as I know it is for anyone who’s ever attended one.
Then there’s the race cancellations. Training is a joy in and of itself. But when it’s decoupled not only from competition but from the faintest suggestion of competition (at least for the foreseeable future), it starts to feel like an uncanny holding pattern. I’m sure the running community at large is grappling with the same cognitive dissonance.
I’ve taken to treating running as meditation rather than means to an end – like, I might not have a lot of control life-wise at the moment, but I can choose to take this next step, climb this next hill, and I can enjoy it purely for the act itself and not how it will or won’t impact my next 10k. There’s freedom in that.
Our team is finding other outlets, too: reading, cooking, coding, coaching, foraging morel mushrooms, staging elaborate Easter egg hunts and Christmas tree bonfires and generally distracting one another as best we can. We threw an impromptu dance party. We created an 18-minute parody of The Shining.
You know, the usual.
For every egg hunt and movie parody, though, it is impossible to ignore the news trickling in from the outside world. Right now, ZAP life has the texture of a Twilight Zone episode: an eerie, small-town uncanny. As if, just beyond the ridge of our sunny little valley, the world as we know it is crumbling.
I’m being hyperbolic, but still. It takes a Herculean effort to “relax” and enjoy movie night when your friend two states over is losing her job, when your 83-year-old grandma can’t leave her home. Many of us have friends or family members in the medical profession. Some of us have already lost friends or family members to COVID-19.
But (and I never thought I would say this) I’ve found a surprising source of comfort in online communication. Seriously – just checking in on the ZAP Nation FB page or scrolling through friend’s IG stories every day has been a bright little hit of joy. In lieu of in-person camp, we hope to do a lot more digital events throughout the summer, like virtual challenges, live streamed lectures, and Zoom Q&As.
I guess this post is my attempt to reconcile gratitude for being in a position of privilege – and it is an extraordinary privilege to be young, able-bodied, and employed right now – with my own deep-rooted anxiety and grief over the state of the world. I’m trying to give myself the grace to mourn the loss of normalcy without drowning in it. I’m trying to remember that, for those of us living off a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, going about our daily business is the best way we can care for others.
In short, quarantine is treating us well here in the Blackberry Valley. And, as in much of the country, quarantine is quietly stressful. Our situation is both unique and entirely unremarkable.
There is solace in running. Even running in circles, indefinitely.