It’s a different world right now and that includes competitive running.
With the calendar losing traditional races day by day, the common perception seems to be many runners are losing incentive to train.
Coach Jimmy Balmer, who mentors some of the top runners in the area through his work with the “StraitSpeed’’ program, believes it’s possible to strike a balance between trying to stick to a regular training regimen and just relaxing on the couch in these trying times.
Straitspeed had some 18 runners headed to Boston this month when the COVID-19 crisis forced postponement back to the fall.
“As it was for everyone, it was quite a bummer for us,’’ said Balmer, a Yardley resident. “That was going to be our largest-ever contingent. Some are looking for current races but as time goes on, they’re continually being canceled or postponed.
“The ones who have kind of decided to back off for now, some of them have gone into maintenance mode where we’ve dropped the volume a little bit. There’s no target race so there’s no specificity about what we’re doing of a building type basis other than maintaining.’’
Balmer points out this is a good time to work on things that usually are a bit overlooked during high-mileage seasons, such as core work.
“It’s stability work, balance, flexibility,’’ Balmer said. “Those are things we know we should be doing and we probably don’t do as much as we should.
“But now that we can’t go out as much, it’s a much easier thing to pull off when you’re sitting around the house and you see your foam roller or your stretch rope.’’
There are also options like virtual races, which seem to be growing in popularity the longer this situation goes on.
An estimated 60-plus athletes are expected to participate in an upcoming StraitSpeed virtual race.
Anything to avoid taking a month off and becoming a couch potato.
“I don’t really find that an issue with anyone,’’ Balmer said with a chuckle. “I think dropping the volume down a little bit helps, especially mentally with everything that they have to deal with that they normally don’t have to, like being in the house with the kids 24 hours a day.
“It is important to keep some kind of normalcy in training. I think it’s good to build in some down weeks as I usually do with my athletes. It’s not just a physical break, it’s a mental one. . .a way to keep it a little bit normal. Athletes like it when it’s ‘building, building, building, rest.’
“Usually they use a down week to take a vacation with the family. But now there are no vacations. They can still at least use that week to mentally take a break.’’
Balmer and his partner, Chris Strait, coach athletes across the country by way of the internet. Since the competitors are generally spread out geographically, there’s no need for social distancing.
“Running generally is a solo thing,’’ Balmer noted. “We have a few athletes who know each other but for the most part they’re training on their own. Running is something where you can step outside the front door and go.’’
A native of Texas, Balmer ran track in high school (Coronado/Lubbock) and college (University of Texas-Arlington). His best events were the 10,000 meters and the steeplechase in college, where he narrowly missed qualifying for NCAA Division 1 nationals.
He works for Dow Jones/Barron’s Magazine, which has a headquarters in Princeton and that brought him to Yardley.
Strait was Balmer’s college teammate. Strait heads the coaching site and that’s how Jimmy got into coaching.
Balmer is still active in running and has worked his way all the way up to ultramarathons.
His running exploits were an inspiration for his daughter, Bailey, who a few years back placed as high as 25th in the PIAA state cross country championships and was part of the several Pennsbury teams which took part in NXN national meets, peaking at fifth in the U.S. team standings her senior year.
Jimmy is quite active in the Yardley racing scene, helping to organize the annual Yardley Mile race on Memorial Day weekend.
Recently he read an article about a gentleman who ran every street in San Francisco.
That gave Balmer the idea to run every street in Yardley – without a stop.
Turns out the journey was more than 18 miles and required about two and a half hours.
“People were coming out of their houses and cheering as I went by,’’ Balmer said. “It was kind of neat.’’