photo: Glen Delman

Running in Harmony: Thoughts and Tips for Staying Fit in Body and Mind

How to become a better runner even when track (and everything else) is canceled.


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Have you ever paid attention to details like you do now, with fears of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, hanging in the air you breathe? Have you ever thought about the gift that this moment is, and how grateful you are for your health? Have you ever appreciated your friends, coaches, or practice, so much as in their absence?

Challenge and hardship wake us up to what is essential. They reveal our gifts and allow us a chance to see how deeply our roots can dig for nourishment—physically, emotionally, and mentally. At Steens Mountain Running Camp in Oregon, founder Harland Yriarte says that during droughts, aspen trees don’t give up; they drive their roots deeper into the earth, searching for moisture to survive. In fact, challenge and hardship are the only ways to become a better runner.

All that grief and gratitude you’re feeling is at the heart of what makes you, under any circumstance, a better runner. Why? Those who want to be “better” share an unfailing belief that setbacks are just opportunities to learn. Inherently, this includes joyous gratitude for the chance to grapple with—and even learn to befriend—challenges. True champions don’t bemoan the loss of what was. They celebrate life chiseling them into who they are asked to become.

You might be feeling lots of things. Emotions aren’t permanent, though, and accepting them can help you move through them.

photo: Glen Delman

What obstacles have you encountered before? Can you can draw strength or inspiration from another experience, like an injury? For example, before my senior year at University of Oregon, I badly sprained my ankle. Relegated to 10-minute runs and the bike, I had to be strong in my head and heart to keep my dream of winning an NCAA title that year alive. I had to accept that my injury happened for a reason. I had do little things well to find success. I used my imagination to transport myself mentally to hard one-mile repeats and other workouts “with” my team. (I ended up leading our team and finishing 9th at NCAAs.)

Even if you’re not going to race this spring or summer or even fall, you can keep improving. Keep marching toward your long-term goals. Don’t have any? Time to dream bigger—beyond this season! As I used to tell myself, “Every step I take is a step closer to my dream.” Every step, literally and figuratively, has meaning. There are no ordinary or wasted moments as a runner.

Follow public health guidelines for social distancing and movement outside. Listen to your body, and give it the sleep, nutrition, and hydration it needs. There’s no need to increase volume or any other training factor right now— you don’t have to go into the well during a hiatus!

5 Tips For Staying Fit In Body And Mind

  1. Be creative if you can’t go outside.

— Do every drill you can think of, around a room, down a hallway or in place. Bonus points if you do it to the beat of your favorite songs until you drop with satisfaction and/or joy.

— Run up and down stairs, if you have them. One at a time, skipping one, double hop.

photo: Getty Images

— Mix your team’s core strengthening exercises into a circuit of high-paced exercises such as  the following. Try 3 to 5 sets with downward dog as rest in between sets:

• 1 min of plank
• 3 min jumping rope (or pretending to)
• 2 min A, B, and C skips (per above, try Karma Chameleon by Culture Club and Wake Me Up Before You GoGo by Wham)
• 3 min stairs or run in place
• 15 squats
• 10 burpees
• 10 pushups

— Focus on mobility with foam roller and other tools.

— Check out online streaming videos for yoga or other workouts, like dancing, especially this Richard Simmons classic.

  1. Strengthen your focus muscle.

Commit to practicing visualization three times a week for a month. Focus on your goal race for the year. We are only limited by our imaginations! As Alice Walker says, “If you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere and it can do anything.”

  1. If your motivation is shot, stop running for two weeks.

Take a break. Rest. Cross train. Try something totally different than you’re used to (See: Richard Simmons). This will help you hit the reset button.

  1. Keep connected.

If you’re missing the social interaction and motivation that comes from healthy peer pressure from being on a team, connect with them virtually. You could also connect with other online running communities, such as on Strava. Have some fun: make up running a course that you think no one else could dream up! Set an FKT (Fastest Known Time) for your new segment. Have fun watching others test themselves on your original course—and use it to motivate you to keep training and improving your mark

  1. Choose to include goodness and hope.

As Gloria Steinem says, “Without leaps in imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”

Melody Fairchild is a running coach, director of Boulder Mountain Warriors Youth Run Club, founder of The Melody Fairchild Girls Running Camp, and master’s athlete in Boulder, Colorado. Her first book, GIRLS RUNNING (VeloPress), co-authored with Elizabeth Carey, is forthcoming. Elizabeth Carey is a freelance writer and running coach based in Seattle, Washington.

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