I’d love to recreate 100 percent of the time out of an intrinsic love for movement and the great outdoors. But the truth is I sign up for races as a way to appeal to my base instinct to avoid shame and humiliation. I pay money and commit to a date, a time, and a crowd, which forces my expanding derriere off the couch and into the saddle and my soft feet out of warm slippers and into running shoes. I stick to the training plan—not because I’m striving for my best times—but because I don’t want the woman racing with a double stroller to beat me up the hill. 

This spring race organizers were forced to make painful decisions to cancel or postpone these races around the country. What have runners and cyclists done without that extrinsic motivation? 

Judging from the number of people on common cycling routes and trails, many have tapped into an unrealized potential for intrinsic motivation—and I’m damn proud of us for it. We’re not running because we don’t want to look like fools; we’re running because it feels good. We’re biking because our mental health depends on it. We’re hiking because sunsets are beautiful and we want to see them from a new perspective—and because the escape soothes us so we can once again be the partners and parents we want to be.  

One of my favorite trends in the age of COVID-19 is how many people have harnessed this intrinsic motivation. I have a friend who has ridden his bike on the local river loop trail every day since Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order started. Some days he rides a few miles, and other days he rides dozens. His primary motivation is to clear his mind and move his body.  

Runner along a dirt trail in Central Washington.
A Central Washington Runner Enjoys the Beauty of Local Trails. // Photo by Summer Hess

Those who still benefit from external goals are getting creative and designing their own challenges. One friend decided to stick with her goal of setting a half-marathon PR, even without a race on the books. She invited members of her local running club to join her, and they ran along behind her, giving her a mental boost and helping her meet her goal. Another ran her canceled 50K on local trails rather than the designated racecourse, and her family met her along the way with drinks and snacks. 

Perhaps other aspects of pandemic recreation are worth keeping for the long term, even as restrictions ease. The suggestion to recreate close to home and commute to the trail in a human-powered fashion if possible helps lower emission and combat climate change. Also, the call to show some extra love for the organizations that build and protect our trails makes a lot of sense. Becoming a member of or donating to groups like the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, American Whitewater, Dishman Hills Conservancy, Friends of the Bluff, and the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy feels more important now than ever as we spend so much on our local public lands. 

Whatever your outlet, and however you find motivation, one thing is clear: We’ve all got to keep moving as best we can. Here in the Inland Northwest, we’re lucky to have abundant trails and public lands to accommodate so many ways to stay active. 

Summer Hess is the managing editor of Out There Outdoors. She is scouting alternative routes for her canceled 50K on June 6.