If you’re used to running off your stress, running for fun, and maybe running to train for a goal race, the current pandemic has probably put a wrench in all of those plans. Here’s what you can do to keep training despite it all.
You can probably still run outside
Any time you leave your house, you’re making a judgment call on risk. Are you better off getting some fresh air and exercise, even if it means somebody might cross your path? Personally, I wouldn’t run through crowded streets right now, but in a quiet neighbourhood the benefits probably outweigh the risks.
That said, some things have changed. Parks have closed in many areas; it’s hard to jog on a popular path while staying 1.5 metres away from everybody. And it’s definitely not a good time to meet up with a running group, or even to make a running date with a friend.
Does running (or bicycling, for that matter) change the rules of what is a safe distance? The truth is we still don’t know. Some Belgian researchers released a series of videos showing how droplets from a runner’s breath can spread behind them, but it’s not a full-fledged study and epidemiologists don’t think it’s very helpful.
Other cardio options can keep up your fitness
If you can’t run on the roads, or if you choose not to, the next best thing is a treadmill in your home. Failing that, running coach Jason Fitzgerald says that cycling, elliptical machines, and pool running all “transfer really well to running.”
Other types of cardio may not transfer directly, but can still help you keep up your fitness. There are tons of aerobics and dance videos on YouTube and in apps, for example.
Circuit training is a hybrid of cardio and strength training that keeps your heart rate up as you switch quickly between exercises. Think Crossfit-style workouts that incorporate burpees, jump rope, or jumping jacks with strength moves like pushups in between. Workouts like this are Fitzgerald’s recommendation for when you can’t run or do something similar, but he says it’s a last resort. “Even though you’re getting a cardiovascular benefit, you’re not really doing it in a running-specific way,” he says. But if you’re stuck inside, you do what you can.
What to do if your race is cancelled
So let’s say you’re still running. If you were training for a race later this autumn, or perhaps in the summer or spring, there’s a good chance it may not happen. Perhaps you were nearing the end of your marathon program when you learned the race was cancelled. Fitzgerald says you shouldn’t feel like your race training is pointless. After all, he says, “it’s the training that makes us better,” whether or not you run the race.
“I’m kind of taking the perspective of: what could I do right now, that would help me become the best runner that I could be? And that would be: Train.”
You can still cap off your training with something like a race, even though it won’t be the same as a big-city marathon with crowds of supporters. You can run a time trial on your own, or you can join a virtual race that gives you some sense of community and a commemorative T-shirt. At least this way you can test your fitness and see proof that your hard work paid off.
Find a sustainable path forward
We may be in this lockdown situation for a while yet. So how do you keep running (or working out) when you don’t know what is yet to come? Fitzgerald points out that your health should come first, and that includes mental health.
If you find that exercise helps clear your head and manage your stress, figure out a schedule that takes advantage of that benefit. Maybe that means you stop doing long runs and speedwork, and just do shorter easy runs every day.
But if you find that you do have the time and energy to follow a training plan, Fitzgerald has another option for you. “I would do some soul searching,” he says. “Look through your training log and see what your weak link is.”
Do you get hurt a lot? It might be a good time to focus on strength training for injury prevention. Or do you always skip your speedwork? Now’s the time to dive in and address that. You probably know in your heart what you should be doing but aren’t. And now that you don’t have a race on the calendar, you have time to do it.