© Copyright – 2020 – Athletics Illustrated

During the Covid-19 pandemic, middle and long-distance runners as well as some sprinters are hitting all sorts of unofficial personal bests, standards, and records.

There is no definitive answer as to why this is happening, however, one theory that seems to have legs is the idea that athletes are running their own “races”. When racing alone, or being paced, rather they are strictly going for a time that they believe they can hit based on performances achieved during training.

John Gay paces 10,000m at Swangard Stadium 2018. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Two recent examples that stand out are by Shelby Houlihan of the US and Mo Ahmed of Canada, both with Bowerman Track Club in Oregon.

Ahmed ran to a new Canadian record performance, bettering his own 12:58.16 with a 12:47.20 in the 5,0000-metre event. The improvement is jaw-dropping. He is now one of the top-10 in the distance all time and it is the fastest 5,000m by anyone in North America.

Houlihan also bettered her own national 5,000m record going 14:23.92.

Typically, when competing, athletes are racing with tactics, to avoid being dropped by the field or a group or are forcing and perhaps changing pace throughout to throw competitors off their game.

Regardless, the current opportunity to test one’s self bodes well for athletes who are looking for benchmarks, records, and standards.

The latest is Vancouver’s John Gay. The 23-year-old former University of British Columbia Thunderbird currently specializes in the 3,000m steeplechase. On the weekend he ran a time trial in a new personal best time of 13:27.19. His official best time is 13:57.68.

“it’s really rewarding and exciting to cap off this bizarre season with another personal best, albeit unofficial,” Shared Gay.

He also recently ran a mile in the time of 3:59.28 as well as 3,000msc in 7:48.57. His previous best in the 3,000msc was 8:05.81.

Asked why there seems to be many more personal bests and records being set during the pandemic Gay added, “I think the biggest contributor to my success and the success of the others who’ve made the most of time trials this summer has been a commitment treating this year as an equal opportunity for improvement as any normal season. While the races were unofficial, my coach {Chris Johnson] and I tried hard to simulate the training and buildup for each race as if they “counted,” with increasing emphasis on races later in the season. This past week was pencilled in as the capper to my season and racing a Mile on Wednesday and the 5000 on Saturday was intended to simulate running heats and finals at a major championship, something I had hoped I’d be doing at this time of year under regular circumstances.”

Gay during 2017 Vikes Invitational at Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall.

By all appearances, Gay looks like he is ready to take the next step in his career and challenge standards to qualify for international competition with authority. When the qualification window re-opens of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (2021), he will have these benchmarks over a range of distances to work from.

“Having success in both events helped to remove some of the uncertainty that can surround performing at big races like the Olympics or World Championships. Knowing that I can deliver performances now gives me a lot of confidence that I can follow the same processes and perform on-demand when it really matters!”