We're deep into this strange, frightening, and difficult new reality, when going outside must serve essential purposes during the coronavirus pandemic. For many of us, moving our body is still one of them. If you've been trying to run, you are not alone. In neighborhoods across the country, people have been out there, pushing their bodies forward at all paces to feel a small sense of freedom, control, and release in a time where we're surrounded by a lot of darkness.
But it's concerning, thinking about breathing as you navigate sidewalks and other people. Running is also hard. It can be boring and painful, and it's often difficult to ignore your brain when it's screaming at you to give up. In sum, running right now seems impossible. It doesn't have to be.
I put together some tips for running in the time of quarantine to ensure you are safe, respect other people around you, and try and feel a little more at ease. And although I am far from an expert, I have learned a lot about perseverance, endurance, and listening to your body, through injuries, tears, race wins, many sufferfests, ultra-running adventures, coaches, and friends.
A little bit about me: My body and my brain like to run. And I run a lot. Before the world came to a halt, I was averaging about 70 miles a week. Most people in my life think I am weird because I willingly pay money to go run 50, 63, or 100 miles (known as ultramarathons), through deserts, mountains, in the rain, and into the night, for “fun.” But when I am out there, things fit, there’s a gritty clarity, and I feel unequivocally myself.
Running, though, has not always been my thing. I used to dread it, eyes locked on the treadmill at the gym, watching the red numbers creep along, losing my mind. I spent many mornings begrudgingly taking off down the block, laughing at myself for thinking I'd make it a mile. Even after doing it consistently and seriously for five years now, there are still days when it’s tough and I get frustrated and discouraged. Now, though, I am trying to see every chance I have to step outside and log some miles as a gift, even when I feel worn and weighed down.
One of the most beautiful things about running is the "why." People run for a myriad of reasons: to lose weight, help their heart, challenge themselves, find connection. They also run because it's their release, it gets them into their skin, it brings joy, makes grief more manageable, shakes loose the heaviness. It doesn’t click like this for everyone, I know, but there is a "why" to the run. Mull over yours, and hold onto it. We will get (and run) through this, because the truth is, you are capable of more than you realize and humans are resilient.
First of all, can I catch COVID-19 while running?
There has been no evidence that sweat transmits the coronavirus. Surfaces, however, can be risky, the CDC warns, since people often cough and sneeze into their hands and then touch all the things. Remember to use your elbow, sleeve, or the bottom of your shirt to touch metal, and don’t touch your face. Same goes for bathrooms and water fountains. If you are not like me and think ahead, take a rag or some tissues with you in a little ziplock bag to touch doorknobs and contact points and to wipe your nose or sweat from your face. You can keep your phone in there to protect it too.
What about wearing a mask?
The Centers for Disease Control is now recommending that everyone wear a face mask in public, but the idea of trying to run and breathe in one sounds really rough. The CDC is not asking us to stop exercising outside, but they're imploring us to be smart. You shouldn't be surrounded by people right now, but if you do usually run through bustling sidewalks, experts suggest taking that extra precaution. You can bring one with you to put on when you get to that section you know might be more risky.
But what kind? Health officials say we should be sporting a cloth mask that we can rewash and use every day. You can make one yourself using CDC guidelines. Or they say you can cut up old shirts or use a bandana. Let me also introduce you to buffs (aka neck-gaiters), an ultra-runner's best friend. We use these on trails to help protect against dust, sun, keep ourselves warm. They're multifunctional and great options for running outside right now.
Running with a mask will make it harder, but you can always slow your pace (I'll get to that part soon) and practice breathing exercises. Shape and Runner's World have some helpful and easy tips on how to deepen your breathing and teach your body how to take in the most oxygen. The most important thing is to stay calm, keep it comfortable, and start slow.
Why would I run right now?
Running can become therapy, church, a void where you can be present and absent all at once. It’s a time in which you can blast that one song on repeat and a way to release rage, process pain, cry. I have run through a lot: covering wildfires, hurricanes, mass shootings, watching my hometown burn down, heartbreaks, my parents’ divorce, not having my mom in my life for years. It has taught me how to face and manage anxiety and helped me heal through a dark period in my life when I developed an eating disorder, teaching and enabling me, after years and years of self-disdain and sabotage, to see my body as a powerful thing that I want to care for and support, not a machine to punish, deprive, or tear down. Running helped me discover me. Neuroscientists have also repeatedly explained how it rejuvenates and clears your mind and boosts your mental health (all good things right now).
Also, and I need to remind myself of this, give yourself a little grace when it's tough. We are living in an extremely difficult time, and stress and anxiety are seeping into us from all aspects of our lives. Stress takes a physical toll. Meaning, even if you're not exerting yourself in a workout class, your body is worn out, and that makes everything harder than it normally would be.
But how do I navigate a busy city, like NYC, during this time?
I know that right now, especially for my friends in New York City, thinking about being outside, streaming through busy sidewalks, and breathing around others is scary. You can create space for yourself. Stay present. Bring your mask. If another runner is heading your direction on the sidewalk or street, make eye contact, wave, acknowledge that you're sticking to one side. If you are running up behind someone on a narrow path, trail, or sidewalk, let them know before you get there. Say hi, good morning, on your left; give them time to give you that distance. Remember to also think about and respect walkers when you jog by. Respect their bubble. Don’t pant, cough, or sneeze in their proximity.
Officials have been encouraging us to run solo. Paris recently banned people from running outside during the day because once the spring weather hit, joggers started congregating in groups. The running community has created a #runsolo movement to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy.
What if I feel sick?
If you're feeling sick, DO NOT run. Sneezing? Coughing? Think it might just be a cold? Don't try to "sweat it out" right now. It’s too risky. Focus on resting and boosting your immunity. Pump up your vitamin C, zinc, vitamin B, and magnesium.
Running outside alone kind of freaks me out. How do I stay safe?
I know that that running alone, especially at night, can make people feel uneasy. I usually do not run with music (I know, again, I'm weird). But when I do, I never wear headphones. If you're running at night, I would suggest ditching the Pods or at least leaving one ear open. I turn on my iPhone flashlight if it's particularly dark. I have friends who run with headlamps or flashers (gear options here). Tell someone that you're going for a run, how long you should be gone, and where you’ll be if you're nervous. You can always share your location with friends and family too.
Back to the no-music thing for a second. I used to panic if my music died during a run. When I joined my first marathon-training group, our coaches encouraged us to talk to one another when we would be out on the roads for two, three, four hours every weekend. Save the music for when you really need it, they'd say, give yourself something to look forward to. I came to appreciate the other sounds, especially on trails. Snippets of people's conversations, birds, kids squealing, wind, my own breath, footsteps on the pavement, the pulse of a place. It helped me become more aware of how I was running, as well as my surroundings, which is extra important right now to stay safe. I usually start my runs with my own thoughts and let them swirl around until they flush out. If they stay heavy, I put on the jams on speaker or listen to a podcast, depending on my mood or the workout. Try it.
It’s really hard to get and stay motivated. Any words of encouragement?
If you're having trouble motivating yourself to move right now, you're human and very much not alone. Same. Especially now, when many races are canceled, and our past lives, routines, and plans seems very far away. It's hard to see the point in pushing yourself to do something. It's been happening to me often. Ask for help and accountability. Start a group text encouraging one another to exercise. Agree on an hour and FaceTime with friends before and/or after you both go out. Pick a race in a city or country you've always wanted to visit or a distance that you never imagined you could cover, a 5K, 50K, whatever, and plan something for next year. Get your friends in on it. I lean on others often for motivation, especially when I am worn down. You can email me, I'll happily help.
Don't beat yourself up. Celebrate that you are trying, that you did something you normally wouldn’t do in unprecedented circumstances. If you're feeling particularly drained and it’s a mental war to get off the couch, make a deal with yourself to go outside or do some form of activity for 10 minutes. After that, if you're still exhausted or not feeling great, you can stop, and you still moved your body.
(You can also play this amazing piece of content when you finish.)
I am used to working out in big classes, groups, or with friends. How can I maintain community?
Running might be an individual activity, especially now, but it does not have to feel lonely or isolating. There are so, so many running communities and groups across the country that are doing inspiring, motivating work virtually. We're solo, together, right now, and it's OK to need one another. If there's one thing this pandemic has laid bare it's that when all the exterior things come to a grinding halt, we are really all we have and it's our connections that help us survive. There are apps for this, too. Strava is a great way to learn about runs in your area and follow your friends, Nike Run Club is popular, and one of my friends loves Aaptiv.
And while most races around the world have been canceled, postponed, or are up in the air, there are now a ton of various virtual events that you sign up for. Running a virtual race means you register, complete the distance (5K, 10K, marathon, running for 24 hours straight) during a certain time period, and then record your results. Check out RunSignUp, choose your date and distance you want to try, and boom, take your pick. Many organizations will still send you a medal for participating.
The act of putting one foot in front of the other to circumvent a neighborhood, circle a city, again and again, sounds like a mental slog. But for a lot of us, it’s a gift because we still can. Take in your streets, even if they’re stripped and empty. There’s a reason why a quarantined man in China ran 31 miles at once in his living room, and another, a 66-year-old, totaled 318 miles during two months of quarantine in his small Beijing apartment, logging 6 miles a day for 50 days, and runners across the world are creating races in their backyards and completing canceled marathons on their balconies. Because they could, it was something they could own. Our bodies are still here, still working. We can do and make it through hard things.
It's dark out there right now. We have very little control over anything, and our daily lives have been excruciatingly paused as everything else around us whirls at a sickening speed. In ultra-running, our races are long and we often run through the night. It's overwhelming, as the sun fades, to think about running 30 more miles when your legs have already logged 70. The thing is, though, you can't think that way — it's crushing. You have to take it in increments, from checkpoint to checkpoint. Being present, focusing on fueling, drinking water, and the mile that you're in. Even if your goal is to make it a mile down the block, don't think about how far away the finish is, but know that you'll get there. Like any run, this period is a collection of painful, strange, illuminating miles and persistent footsteps. The pain, discomfort, despair, it all comes, and the suffering is not linear. But you can feel it all while still moving forward. It eases and ebbs. And the light always comes back. ●