How to have stress-free runs during the coronavirus lockdown

The whole point of exercise in these difficult times is to make us feel calm

Another few weeks into lockdown and we are all getting very familiar with our local paths and parks. Hopefully, you have discovered some delightful neighbourhood secrets and enjoyed your running adventures even if they are not quite what you had originally planned for these spring months.

Welcome to the new, reluctant, runners out there too. I know you would much rather be back in the gym or playing your usual sport but we hope you can embrace being a runner for another few weeks.

Negative press coverage

With heightened anxiety levels on all fronts these days, there has been mixed media coverage on runners and their footpath habits. Some walkers feel intimidated by approaching runners, surprised by their silent yet quick approach and uncomfortable with their heavier breathing. However, runners have also been disappointed with some walkers’ behaviour too. But getting aggressive or frustrated with each other doesn’t help anyone’s stress levels. We all need to remember to consider those we meet along our path as a partner on our journey, not an obstacle to be overcome.

A different view

Put yourself in the shoes of the people you have met on your runs so far. Are you a welcoming face to those you meet? Do you acknowledge those on your path and give plenty of notice as to which direction you are going to move to avoid them? Are you willing to stop and move into a driveway in order to let other runners or walkers pass safely? Do you check if it is safe to move into a cycling lane or the road before you move out to ensure social distancing?


Let’s do our bit

When we are out running, it is easy to fall into a zone where we are focused purely on the clock, the pace and the finish line. We are used to zigzagging past dogwalkers and meandering families for many years, but times have changed, there are a lot more people out using the local paths now. Let’s make sure we all do our bit to make our local 2km area as relaxing, comfortable and enjoyable for everyone who is currently out getting their daily exercise. It does take concentration and energy to make sure we consider everyone else, but safety has got to be the priority these days.

Lower your expectations

I spent the initial days of social distancing restrictions getting frustrated at the obstacle course that the paths had become. Second guessing people’s next move and planning my safety manoeuvres was stressful and energy zapping. I eventually realised I couldn’t predict or change what others do, but I could do my best to avoid busy times and routes. Now I actively take the quieter path. I make my time outdoors safer for everyone, even if that means I have to be flexible with my run, my route, the time of the day and the surface I run on. Safety first and fitness second.

Hidden opportunity

I’m not saying that you cannot get a good workout when you are out and about. If you want to run fast, do so where the coast is clear and you have the space to do so. But if others are in sight, take your feet off the gas, smile, acknowledge them and give them plenty notice of your next move. Experiment with running off-road if you have fields or parks in your locality. You can minimise the oncoming traffic, focus on the nature around you and enjoy the softer surface underfoot. This is also the perfect time to practise Fartlek runs. Play around with these unstructured runs where you can vary fast, slow and strength exercises as your environment dictates. Remember, it is okay to walk part of a run too.

Stay safe

We are all equal on the path. If both runners and walkers are willing to stop and move to the side everyone will be in better form and more relaxed. Basic safety rules apply as well as Covid-19 rules. In order to keep social distance, be careful you are not constantly jumping out on a road or a cycling lane. Leave your the headphones at home to ensure you are more aware of all that’s around you. Run when the paths are quieter, or if it makes you relax even more, just walk instead. Choose to do all that will make your time outdoors more enjoyable and safer for all.

My running rules

While we are entitled to the path as much as anyone else, wouldn’t it be good to go beyond our entitlement and give runners an extra good name when we are out and about these days.

My plan for the next few weeks is to continue to escape for my daily exercise but I will keep the following in mind:

  • Acknowledge others well in advance
  • Smile or say hello from a distance
  • Be flexible with route and speed
  • Make others feel comfortable
  • Be willing to stop mid-run
  • Avoid any busy paths
  • Run at quiet times

Will you join me?

Be the change you want to see in the world, they say. Let's start that on the paths of Ireland right now. Whatever your mode of exercise, be it roller skates, running shoes or walking boots, let's play our part in making our journey the safest, most enjoyable and stress-free it can be for everyone we encounter. You will also return home feeling more relaxed yourself. The whole point of exercise and fresh air in these difficult times is to make us feel calm and energised. Don't waste the opportunity we have by bringing more stress back to your home, or your neighbour's.

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

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!