Never in a million years would I have thought a tiny virus could change and have such a lasting impact on sports and life in general. COVID-19 had brought devastation, tears, frustration, fear and so many other unknowns not just to me, but to the whole running community and the world.
Everything stopped. No more team practices. No more races. No national championships or state finals.
It was essentially like flipping off all the lights, leaving everyone in the dark.
When this craziness first came about — right before the 2020 New Balance Indoor Nationals — I was disappointed to say the least. I had put in a lot of hard work over the course of the season, and wanted to reap the benefits by being able to compete and perform well at the most recognized and premier indoor championship in the nation.
Racing at the Millrose Games earlier that season had given me the opportunity to witness and experience the electric atmosphere and legendary history of The Armory in New York City. I was ecstatic to have the chance to return and finish off an amazing year.
This was the first year I had competed in more than one indoor meet, so I was incredibly grateful to get to race with so many other talented and hardworking athletes one final time.
News had recently started being released about the virus. So many people were becoming infected. The questions started circulating inside my head. Was it safe to race? They wouldn’t cancel a national championship, would they? What is going to happen?
My questions were quickly answered when I saw the announcement that New Balance Indoor Nationals had been cancelled due to COVID-19 safeguards.
Honestly, I was shocked. This was the first time in my lifetime this had ever happened. Even though this was incredibly disheartening, I was so fortunate to have been able to compete in other races before the cancellation. I tried to be optimistic and I was excited and for the upcoming track and field season.
But this raised even more questions.
If an event as large as New Balance Nationals could be cancelled, what does this mean for the rest of the outdoor track and field season? Surely the virus will be under control by then wouldn’t it? No. As the months passed, things just seemed to continue to escalate. The Brooks PR Invitational, countless state championships and all other meets were eventually shut down.
With essentially no races on the calendar and the future not looking too bright for track and field in 2020, I tried to take this opportunity to my advantage.
Although I may not have known it at the time, it became one of my biggest blessings.
Training, racing, traveling and competitions are just a few of the fun and exciting parts of being a runner, but sometimes it can be beneficial to take a step back. I had been going nonstop since the beginning of cross-country season back in the summer. I was tired, and I used this time to give my body and mind the essential recovery it needed.
One of the hardest things for me as an athlete is taking time off.
I always knew it was important to give your muscles time to repair, but the more mature I became as a runner, I started taking a little less time off between seasons. Now with what seemed like an endless amount of time ahead of me, I took a month off and did zero running whatsoever. This was honestly the most mentally challenging action I have ever taken as an athlete. For one week I did absolutely nothing and then did some minimum cross training for the remaining time off.
It was agonizing for me because it made me think things like, “How will my fitness be impacted? Am I setting back my progress? Will I be able to come back as strong?” along with other doubtful thoughts.
As hard as this was, I soon began to realize this time off had benefits. I became stronger, more knowledgeable and just a better person in general. I was able to focus on experimenting and finding the right balance nutritionally, along with mixing up strength training and trying new things that were unfamiliar and out of my comfort zone.
I learned to become so much more adaptable, and I was able to spend a lot of extra free time getting quality moments and making memories with my family.
With so much time to learn more about myself, I was able to explore and discover my greatest strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I have always strived to be a more flexible person — a more “go with the flow” type of personality. I used to be very rigid and have an “all or nothing” mentality to pretty much any situation whether it be the location of a run, a certain workout, weather, etc.
With all this time to reflect, I focused on challenging that rigid thinking every opportunity I got.
The positive results I received totally changed my whole attitude and perspective. I chose to be more positive, even when the circumstances were not ideal. For example, one day my mom and I had to go to three different tracks before we found one that was open. At one location, I had even completed my whole warmup before finding out that I was not allowed to run there because of COVID regulations.
This was obviously frustrating, considering the amount of time wasted looking for a place to run, along with the temperature rising every minute as it neared the hottest part of the day.
In the past, I would have gotten upset because things didn’t go my way and in return, my workout performance would have suffered because of the way I dealt with the situation.
Now I see things differently.
I didn’t let the negative experience override or takeover. I used it as a chance to become better acclimated to the heat, a chance to be more prepared for the workout by getting some extra warm up time, and having the thought in my head that this was going to be an amazing run. For those reasons, I had so much more fun and finished so much happier.
I had to make many other adaptations to my training during times of quarantine including modified strength routines with the weights we had available at our house, finding facilities to use, and just other ways to stay engaged and fit throughout the uncertain times.
Additionally, after taking my four weeks off, my body and mind felt so much more refreshed. I found through everything that I learned in my time off running, and even after that during so much COVID self-isolation, I was running better than I ever had before without near the amount of effort. I kept things light, easy, fun and just focused on enjoying the process of training.
Socially, I know COVID has put such a damper on things for everyone. There is no more meeting with friends or going out for lunch. No more trips or travel. No more in-class instruction for schools. It all has been tough, but it has caused me to be so much more appreciative and grateful of every moment and opportunity given — whether it be going to school or the chance to compete in a race.
I was able to take full advantage of this at my most recent 3200 meter race at the Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville, Tennessee where I raced my one and only outdoor race in 2020.
I had one of the best performances of my life thus far, and I contribute it to having a positive outlook and just being happy to have the opportunity to compete. I wanted to make the most of it and had a blast racing without absolutely no pressure whatsoever.
All in all, COVID has been the worst crisis to rock the United States and sporting community in quite some time, if not ever. But what I’ve been able to do with the time it forced me to take off has also been one of the biggest blessings of my running career.
I was able to learn so much about myself and make so many positive changes that won’t only help me as a runner, but in all aspects of life.
Although COVID will eventually dissipate, the experience and impact it has had will never be forgotten and will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am so fortunate to say although there is nothing remotely positive about the virus in any way, I was able to turn this time into one of the most empowering and beneficial experiences I have and will ever endure.
JENNA HUTCHINS — SCIENCE HILL HIGH SCHOOL
One Mile Run: 4:43.33
3200 Meter Run: 9:49.83
5000 Meter Run (XC): 16:38.97