March Madness couldn't be a more appropriate title for this month. At its beginning, I was still meeting up with friends for coffee, going to restaurants for meals, and running with my run group on Saturdays. Many of you can relate to me when I say the last week has felt like a year. All days are blurring together, despite being one of the lucky ones who can still work at home. Restaurants are take-out or delivery only, you can't see your friends unless they're 6 feet away from you, and running is now only to be enjoyed on your own.
That last part is something I've struggled with. A lot. Last year, I had some confidence issues. I stepped away from my local store's run group and trained for my only marathon mostly alone or with friends willing to spend a few miles with me at a time. I realized at the end of last year that I needed my run group. I thrive off of community, the sound of shoes syncopating as they scrape the pavement, of miles passing one beep or buzz at a time. Together. So I joined the group on Saturdays starting late February. It was like getting a hug from an old friend. I finished runs proud of our efforts and comforted by camaraderie. I felt like I was finally getting back to my old self.
However, now just a few weeks later, the run group has dissolved, taking on a virtual presence, and many of our goal races are cancelled or delayed until fall. (My race is scheduled for end of June, and we will see if that happens.) Now, that old familiar enemy Anxiety is rearing its head more times in my day than I want to count. I'm questioning myself, my goals, my actions, and missing my friends. But running is still there.
Still, it's tough to do it alone. Running with others is liberating, encouraging, and a distraction from what I'm actually doing. Plus, being alone in the open makes me question everything around me: How far is it to that light pole? I have to run to where to get to 1 mile?! I hate that I let those thoughts overwhelm me, but I can't help it. For me, distance feels longer alone.
I try following up these emotions and inklings with positive talk. I can run! I can get out there, log miles, do my thing, and finish strong. I also ask myself how I'll feel if I don't run, and that usually boosts me into action. Another thing I've been doing is relying on guided runs through the Nike Run Club app. Many of them are minute-based rather than distance-based, and come with great advice from accomplished coaches. Having someone "there" alongside me in my runs keeps me going.
These times are some of the craziest any of us have ever experienced. Now more than ever you might be questioning the reasons why you run. Is it because you love it? Is it because you want to challenge yourself? Is it because you want to reap the benefits of consistent activity? For me, I think I run because I love it. Yes, I struggle with myself mentally as the miles build. I go through waves of self-doubt. However, I know when I reach that finishing point, I am happier, stronger, and better than I was starting out.
Another thing I like to remember is: Even if we are told we can't run together, running doesn't have to be a solo sport. We can still be social (despite "social distancing"). Now more than ever we rely on the "social" in social media.
If you're struggling, consider making a list of positives or new things you could try to stick to your run goals, or just get out the door. Here are my recommendations:
- Give the guided runs a try, or find some other way to experience mindfulness to manage solo miles.
- Text a friend to hold you accountable. I've played "tag" with some before, handing off a run virtually after finishing mine, and vice versa. It keeps us honest and moving forward.
- Check in with other run friends. Maybe FaceTime or Skype them on your run.
- Maintain rather than train. If your race has been delayed, focus on maintaining your fitness now rather than training for your race. You can mix up the exercises too. Maybe focus on strengthening your core, or your legs, or stretching more now that you aren't focused on training.
- If you are still training and enjoy running in a group for your long, slow distance (LSD) runs, reach out to your friends to check in with them. Maybe start at the same time in different places. And keep moving forward. Forgive yourself if your training runs aren't perfect right now. You are getting miles in, alone, and that takes so much mental strength!
- Be kind to yourself. Any miles managed are something to celebrate, especially now when times are tough.
Know that whatever your situation, you can do this. I believe in you!
And when this is over, I know we will all hold our group runs even closer in our hearts, and celebrate each step together.