Pandemic Running

Why hello there, neglected blog *hugs* Guess it’s just you and me, eh?

In case you’ve been living under a vacuum-sealed rock for the past three months, there’s been a worldwide outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and its subsequent viral infection, COVID-19. Georgia’s stats haven’t looked great, and it’s still too soon to tell what kind of an effect the phased re-opening is having, but here we are for the foreseeable future.

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Source: Georgia Department of Public Health

Just before the country shut down sometime in March, I was busy training for the Savannah Women’s Half Marathon in early April, en route to–hopefully!–a second crack at the full marathon in as many years sometime later this year. Obviously the former didn’t happen–the race was postponed to November with virtual participation an option up to the physical November race date. I still haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to be doing, but suffice to say, immediate plans went up in smoke.

In the four weeks leading up to the shutdown, I was struggling a bit to find a rhythm in the new spring semester, but I was still pretty much universally killing the workouts and long runs–a clear sign that, while not perfect, training was definitely going well.

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Missed a couple of Monday easy runs, but was otherwise crushing the Tuesday workouts and Saturday long runs.

The next four weeks were, in retrospect, surprisingly productive on the running front, though I suspect pure inertia had more to do with it than anything: it was a plank of familiarity in a sea of unknowns. I managed a 36.7 mile week the first weekend of April, when I was supposed to have raced in Savannah.

And then the wheels really came loose.

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Ouch.

Two workouts, two long runs, in four weeks. The end of a semester that felt like it had barely begun–courtesy of a total and near-instantaneous shift from in-person to completely online barely three weeks prior–hit like a freight train. Along with, y’know, the existential weight of surviving during a worldwide pandemic.

Running was burning the candle at both ends. I couldn’t pry myself out of bed in the mornings to get a run in, but neither could I fall asleep at night after an exhausting day of existing.

I wish I could say there was a silver bullet to maintaining a running regimen during a global pandemic: some kind of magic wand that consistently carves out time and energy to make runs happen and enjoyable. Instead, there was a lot of frustration, a lot of doubt, a lot of anger and resentment and questioning whether this was really something I should be putting my time and energy into trying to make happen.

Was I just being lazy? Or would getting out there do more harm than good? Was this something I should push through, training myself in the process and building my mental fortitude? Or was I priming myself for a massive burnout down the road? What about my physical fitness? What about how exercise positively affects brain function?

All questions without obvious answers. Also, all pointless spinning.

There is no silver bullet. But there are the following tenets:

Get enough sleep. I can’t emphasize this one enough. Loss of sleep is one of the first symptoms of a higher stress baseline, and it cascades into literally everything else. So this is the first thing to address. If you’re not getting enough sleep, the effectiveness of all other downstream mitigation strategies will be blunted at best, utterly negated at worst. Biggest bang for buck is right here.

Prioritize. And be honest about it. These two points go hand-in-hand, because what we sometimes think of in a single instant as our top priority actually has more leeway than we think. What really is your top priority right? What really needs to get done? And what else can wait?

Do what makes your heart sing. Those other high-priority things with some flex to them can wait until you’ve recharged a bit. Yes, you would do more harm than good by trying to get them done before you’ve rested. I’ve run on 1 hour of sleep before; it’s always utterly unproductive at best, and though this thankfully hasn’t happened to me, it could result in a devastating injury because of my fatigued state at worst. If a nap is going to be what helps in the long run, take a nap. If it’s playing a video game, play a video game. If it’s reading a book, read a book. The other stuff can wait.

My coach and I, in lieu of the half marathon, had planned on a 10K time trial on May 9 as a way to maintain some structure and keep up some motivation. Given the difficulty I had training through April, I asked to push the time trial back a week (see above: Prioritize). As a result, I got a complete week of training in last week–all 33 miles, including a solid workout and a crushed long run. This week, I’ve been on track, and we have a plan for tomorrow’s time trial. I won’t be setting any landspeed records–that 42-minute PR is going to be waiting awhile longer–but it’s giving me something to shoot for.

Wish me luck! And you can bet there’ll be a nap afterwards 🙂

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