Pandemic Running

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Before the pandemic I was running four or five days a week. I ended up with an injury that cut way back on that and was getting physical therapy when the lockdown happened. My PT’s office has opened again but I haven’t gone back. Between the heat and the general low-grade hum of worry that occupies my thinking, I’ve been running just two or three days since the spring. I’m slower, I run shorter distances, I look forward to it less but am always happier when I’m done.

Part of what’s happened is the change in routine. I used to get up early to drive my daughter to school. I’d park the car and run on the trail then head home to shower and get to work. But when they stopped school we started sleeping in, which continues to be a grand choice for everyone’s mental health. Then I quit running on the trail because other runners weren’t social distancing and I don’t want to run in a mask. I take to the parking lots near where we live or I run through the neighborhoods when I feel up to dodging walkers. I let myself go shorter distances since there is less scenery to occupy me. I miss the trail but not enough to overcome my anxiety when I’ve tried to go back. More people are out there than pre-quarantine times and I’m glad of that for them but it makes it less welcoming for myself. That’s fine. There are the parking lots and the neighborhoods.

When I tell people that I’m running less they think I’m asking for help solving a problem but there isn’t one unless you count the pandemic and that’s not a problem to be solved with the right brainstorm session and some positive thinking. It’s just how things are right now; running is practically and mentally harder for several pandemic-adjacent reasons so I’ve adjusted my expectations for myself. Maybe I’ll run more in the fall when the weather cools. Maybe not. I’ll just have to see.

The point I’m making here is that we are not living through normal times and that has unexpected consequences. Other people are, as I’ve observed on the trail, exercising more. Good for them, I say, because exercise is fabulous and definitely a great way to fend off stress. And then there are people like me who have fallen off their routine. Good for us, too, I say, because we should be gentle and open to doing what we need to do right now.

Because I know exercise keeps my mood steady I’ve upped my walking. It’s not running but it’s something. Since my husband is working from home we walk the dogs together twice a day. It’s a good time to catch up and get some space alone together. I also walk to work listening to a podcast or music, depending on what I feel like I need to hear that day.

It is these small things that matter.

Although I don’t know when it will end, I do know the pandemic will end. One reason I keep running at all is that I know someday I’ll be back on the trail and I don’t want to start from scratch. But I’m also not going to hold myself to pre-pandemic standards. I decided early on when becoming a runner that I am going to do this for a lifetime (or for as long as my knees will let me), which means I am going to be open to it looking different ways at different times. I don’t fret when I’m running less because I’ve got a cold. Or because my physical therapist said so. Or because there’s a pandemic sucking the fun out of it. Because I know that to be a 50-year old runner who started running at 48 and who wants to keep running for the next twenty-five years or so means I better be flexible about all that.

If you are running, I salute you. If you are not, I salute you. One day this will be over. Won’t it be grand?

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