How to adapt your running in these difficult times

Keeping motivated as a runner is a challenge but the first rule? Be kind to yourself

Just over two weeks ago I shared my last group run with a bunch of like-minded runners. We enjoyed the miles and the chat and planned our next run. But that meet-up never happened. Within a week all club training was cancelled, park-run was suspended and all spring races were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It may seem trivial to write about running at such a difficult and uncertain time, but never has there been a period where we all need to feel less stressed and more grounded. Most people have much bigger worries right now than their running fitness, but in a time like this can our running help us?

Keep in touch

For most social runners, running is a huge part of our identity. It is a regular part of our weekly routine and a big part of our social community. You may already be missing your partners in crime. While we cannot meet up in groups to run together, we can still get out alone, to be in nature, boost our immune systems and replace some of our anxiety with fresh air and endorphins. Keep in touch with those runners you normally run with. Online camaraderie with these running buddies can help keep the social aspect alive as well as boost our motivation even if the miles are run on different paths for now.

How to run solo

If you are at a loss without your usual companions for support, change the focus of your runs for a while. If you never run alone, you have the perfect chance to experiment with running mindfully and notice the arrival of spring. Take the pressure off the clock and run free. If you need something more technical to keep you entertained, you could focus on your run technique, breathing or cadence. Running solo might be your time to catch up with podcasts or play your favourite music. The biggest joy of running solo is that it is entirely on your own terms. You don’t even have to run. Take plenty of walk breaks and enjoy being the boss of the run. Decide to enjoy it and do what your body craves on any given day.

Your new routine

Making a set time for running in this new weekly routine is essential to keep up our momentum in uncertain times. Plan your escape in advance if you are working from home and especially if you have extra bodies in the house due to closed schools and workplaces. If getting out on your own isn’t an option, bring the family with you. Rather than get frustrated about not having your running time, get everyone outdoors. Instead of counting the miles decide to count the minutes of fresh air. This can be in your back garden. Take the pressure off the performance. Wear your running gear and move when you can. You might be surprised at how much you can get others to move with you when you make a game of it.

Be flexible with the plan

Runners love training plans with goals and deadlines but one of the most unsettling aspects of the current situation is that there is no end-date, no milestone or finish line we can work towards. Keeping motivated as a runner in such a difficult time is a challenge. If you have been training for a big event that has been cancelled, keep to the training programme but only if it gives you comfort and a sense of purpose at this time. Practically that may not work for you right now – time and freedom might not be on your side. Accept you can only do so much and when the time is right you will be ready for the next goal.

Can’t do it all

There can be an anxiety about losing fitness when we have less access to coaches, running buddies, physios, races and indeed fitness facilities. There are plenty of online fitness videos to keep you sweating in your sitting room if you wish to go that route. But please try not to do everything, you can only do so much. Now is a time to build our strength and immunity and not over-do it. An extra hour of sleep each night and a homemade healthy dinner might offer you more benefit than another lung busting workout if you are already under pressure.

Social media fitness frenzy

At a time when we probably should be doing less and minding ourselves, we are being bombarded by well-meaning messages to do more. I see a constant stream of free online classes and YouTube videos appearing on my newsfeeds. Many are great initiatives, but physically I cannot do them all. Yet, social media would lead me to believe that now is the time to do everything while I can. Stepping away from social media, and some of those very busy WhatsApp groups might be a better step to take for your mental as well as physical health these weeks. Leave the phone at home and get outside rather than feel guilty about what you feel you "should" be doing, or what you think everyone else is doing.

One day at a time

I am writing this on a day in Ireland when we currently have the freedom to get out the door and walk/run as long as we practice social distancing. But remember these guidelines could change at any time and being housebound 24/7 without our fresh air fix could be our reality at some point. So decide to treat every day right now like it's your last day to have this freedom. Get out there and be in nature. Regardless of the current situation, the mornings are getting brighter and the evenings are getting longer every day this spring. How much we run is not the important piece. It is the fresh air right now that will help us face the coming days with more optimism and calm. We could all do with a good dose of that this week.

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Mary's book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now

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