We’re in the thick of COVID-19 and it’s serious stuff. Increasingly, people we know are afflicted. Most of us are out of work or working from home, taking classes online, become teachers or day care providers for our children, and in any case not able to congregate with friends or shop. Movie theatres have shut down and restaurants restricted to takeout. On the running front, the UVM indoor track is locked up. Gyms and athletic clubs are closed and I suspect even those who previously begrudgingly dragged themselves there would gladly go today! Those who swim, spin (we are still having winter here in VT though outdoor cycling is now becoming an option) or play court sports aren’t so fortunate. Ski areas are closed due to COVID-19 and cross-country trails may be nice for a day before icing over or turning to slush.
All things considered, we runners have it pretty good. Yes, races planned on have been canceled. Larger group runs have disbanded as have indoor track workouts. Yet on snowy days, the streets and bikepaths are plowed and if there’s ice, we can pull out the Icebugs. Running provides us a vital outlet during these crazy and tragic days.
But it’s different.
When training for races, there is something to look forward to, to talk about with others, and plan for trips together. Long runs and track workouts are scheduled to reach peak fitness. We look forward to seeing our competition and hear what they’ve been up to.
So here are some thoughts about what to do….in the meantime.
First, we can’t look to running as our sole activity. That is a prescription for injury, especially for masters runners. Assuming we don’t have indoor equipment this requires some flexibility. My added component has been brisk walks. I track time, distance, and pace (15:00/mi. on a good day) while listening to inspiring podcasts of Hidden Brain, Only a Game, the Ted Radio Hour, and How I Built This. Yesterday, I listened to a story about David Mellor, the Fenway Park head groundskeeper, whose budding pitching career was cut short when at 18 he was hit twice by a car. Told he would never walk again; David beat those odds and followed another path.
Second, keep up with stretching and at least some light weights, though bodyweight exercises offer good options. Ideally, we have some gym elements at home. I have a Bosu ball, physio ball, foam roller, weight bench, stretch cords (though any rope will do), and an assortment of weights from 7 to 20 pounds. So I have NO excuses to slack off though I much prefer to do strength training at the gym with many more options and others around. As do most I expect. While it might be necessary to order a few pieces online, it’s Important to do this!
Third, this is a stressful time. We all feel it. Probably not a good time to add significant training stress by maximizing workouts to prepare for a race we’re not even sure will happen. Perhaps it’s a better time to build/maintain a base with mostly easier and shorter runs. A weekly long run of ten miles will suffice to keep our half-marathon base. Yes, good to throw in some faster pacing. Exert, for sure, our bodies (and minds!) want that, but err on less rather than more. We won’t go to seed!
Fourth, it’s important to guard against incremental weight gain. We’re probably less active overall and if our energy balance changes by 250 calories a day, that’s a half-pound gain a week. With a quality scale, we can start each day with a weigh-in. (A good scale is a worthwhile investment in any case.) Pay increased attention to what and how much we eat and adjust as needed. When the races start up again, we want to be at our race-ready weight. The research suggests each added pound costs about two seconds a mile in race pace.
Last, do our best to keep everything in perspective. It’s a strange and awkward time and we may never return to “normal” as we knew it. That may be, but we are lucky to engage in a sport that is so simple and straightforward. We can give thanks for that. And maybe it’s a time to encourage others to start or reconnect to running. On the bright side, I’ve noticed an increased friendliness of other runners out on the roads and paths. We keep our distance but smile and wave. My guess is they too are thinking how great it is to have a sport that cannot be defeated by COVID-19!