Running As Reinvention

For many of us, 2020 has not gone as planned. Some of us have jobs that haven’t changed much and some of us were already homeschooling, but it’s safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic has uprooted our daily lives in ways we could not have anticipated.

Running, you ask? It’s impossible to say running hasn’t changed for nearly all runners. Our spring races have been canceled; our parks have become too crowded for running while maintaining an appropriate distance between ourselves and others. There’s no other way to put it: Running is tough right now.

It’s inspiring to see so many runners complete virtual races, continue their planned mileage, and even set new PRs without any crowd support! For some of us, though, running is something we have struggled to do. After weeks off, I’m back — but not without some words of wisdom for the rest of the running community.

I live in the great state of Ohio, and I am lucky that our state government and health department took early action to limit social gatherings and other outings and events. It seems like the world-in-Ohio stopped turning a bit before some other states, and with it, I stopped turning.

Suddenly, I found myself teaching a kindergarten curriculum, trying to keep up with my own classes (I teach college, already online, thankfully), working to constantly clean and disinfect my house, dealing with the grief of keeping my distance from my parents and other loved ones, and trying my best to be a present mom and wife. I felt lost. I didn’t feel like myself.

And for me, running did not seem to be the answer. I signed off Instagram for a bit because I couldn’t see so many posts about these great outdoor runs in new spots that served as stress relief. Running was not a stress reliever to me; running was something I had to force myself to do. Eventually, I couldn’t force myself anymore. I felt so overwhelmed with my “new” normal that I couldn’t push myself to do yet another thing.

So, you know what I did? I gave myself the time. I gave myself the grace. I took the pressure off of myself. I stopped comparing myself to others on social media.

I became a blank canvas and started letting the changes paint a revised version of Courtney.

I knew running would come back, but I had to let these changes paint that part of me when they found it inspiring to do so. On Sunday, April 5th — after almost a month off of running — I woke up and felt like I wanted to go for a run. And just like that, I knew the kind of amount of grace to give myself to make it happen.

Maybe this is you — maybe you find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of people who have leaned into running as you sit on the sidelines, head in your hands, wondering, “why not me?” It will come.

It will happen, and you’ll get to experience those butterflies and runners high that only beginners can call their own. You will remember those aches and pains that come with starting. You’ll chuckle at sweating after “just a mile or two.” And you will smile not because you’re “getting back” to the runner you were before, but reinventing yourself into a brand new runner.

You won’t “lose fitness” during your time off; you’ll gain mental strength.

Getting started again has been quite the mental process for me. The evenings are tough and depressing; the world should become quiet at night — but right now, it is quiet all day. I understand and accept the shadows of grief that become visible as the sun goes down, and part of reviving the run is understanding that I am ready to live with them, not avoid them.

I want to share some tips for those of you who are where I was and where I am. One thing I didn’t forget is how great it feels to run, and that has stayed in the forefront. I knew I’d feel renewed and refreshed after I ran, and here are the ways I got myself started.

Get up in the morning and put on running clothes. I’m talking the whole ensemble: The shirt/tank, the bottoms, the running socks, the sports bra. Put your hair up if you need to. Even if you don’t plan to run until later in the day or evening, you’re set to go and don’t have to waste ten minutes getting ready. For some reason, the whole getting ready part usually stopped me in my tracks. It seemed like too much effort. Putting my running clothes on immediately not only helped me be prepared for my run, but it also became a routine — and mental health experts say routines are important to our well-being right now.

Replace “shouldwith “could.” Each day is a brand new day. Each day can also seem like it lasts for freakin’ ever right now. So, we load ourselves up: We clean drawers and closets. We homeschool. We do crafts. We do all the things. Telling yourself you “should” go for a run could give you a guilt complex. Trying replacing that “should” with “could.” When you say to yourself, “I could go for a run,” it’s more of an option than something you’re forcing yourself to do.

Let go of any weird standards. I have seen so many posts about how we should run outside and get fresh air because we are “still allowed” to do those things. However, some of us aren’t comfortable doing that. Our favorite trails and paths have become over-saturated because people want something to do that doesn’t involve violating any stay-at-home orders. Please do not force yourself to run outside if you don’t want to. If you have a treadmill and feel better/safer on the treadmill, use that instead. It doesn’t matter if the weather is perfect; you are not obligated to run outside if you don’t want to right now. Just because it’s one of the activities that is still permitted doesn’t mean you need to partake. You run when and where you feel comfortable!

Switch it up: Focus on time vs. mileage or mileage vs. time. It’s very easy to feel like running is “pointless” if we don’t run X amount of miles. We feel pressure if our pace increases. We get on ourselves about long runs and speed training and all that. Focusing on these things may add stress and make running yet another obligation, and that’s what you want to avoid. If you usually focus on miles, try going for a 30 minute run and forgetting about how far you get. If you normally run for 1.5 hours on Sunday, run five miles and forget about the time — if it takes you 60 minutes instead of 90, great.

Get creative with your virtual events. If your race was canceled and now offers a virtual option, it’s ok to get creative. Don’t insist that you run 5k pace or marathon pace or whatever. Consider completing the race over days, not one run. Run your 26.2 miles over a week if you want. Remember, this is a time of reinvention. Take advantage of it!

Whatever helps you get started, go for it. And remember that “no excuses” isn’t a thing anymore. A global pandemic that doesn’t permit you to leave your home for anything other than essential errands, forces you to be a K-12 educator, insist you either don’t do your job OR do it for several hours per day and come face-to-face with this virus is actually quite the excuse.

There is a fine line between “self-motivation” and self-destruction. Let running be your motivator, and your relationship with it will be forever changed.

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