How to Stay Motivated During a Pandemic

Woman with arms outstretched on a mountain top

Struggling with motivation to run? If so, you’re not alone. What’s the point of training when races may not happen at all? We reached out to mental training consultant Dr. Stephen P. Gonzalez, Ph.D., CMPC of Lebanon, NH, to learn more about how to get motivated.

Whether you’re training for a race or just getting fit, during the global COVID-19 pandemic, exercise is as important as ever. Movement is crucial for your physical and mental health.

“Countless studies have shown that exercise helps with symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues,” says Gonzalez. “It’s a way for us to have holistic well-being both in body and mind.”

If you don’t know where to begin, Gonzalez says, “take control of what you can, but be flexible and adaptable with your goals and fitness.”

Above all, he says, reconnect with your reason for training. Understand why it’s important to you, what you love about it and remember to find the joy and fun in your training. This will help you know where to focus your energy.

So, during a new era of socially-distant life, what motivates you to get out of the door? We looked to our Instagram community to find out. Here’s what you had to say:

1. Make progress toward long-term goals.

While you may not have a major marathon on the calendar, you can still create meaningful goals to work toward. One of the best ways to stay motivated and build good habits is to make a routine and stick with it. The satisfaction that comes from steady progress is hard to beat.

“Setting weekly goals. Like this week it is to run a half marathon. Last week I ran 6 days of 6 miles."—luvforkids09

“Visualizing how much this block of training will benefit me for my upcoming races.”—blake.feron

“Having a written plan and checking off each workout when it is completed!”—new_slang

2. Join virtual races and online challenges.

An online challenge such as a virtual race creates a tangible goal with accountability, despite that fact that you’re running on your own. There are many reasons why we love virtual racing, including the online community and the benchmark it provides to help you continue your training.

"I joined an online challenge - set my mileage goal for the month which gets me out there."—dbirdpdx70

“Training for a virtual race!”—annieeeee_

“Strava Segment hunting.”—the_alex_ponce

3. Pump up the jams.

What is it about the perfect playlist that makes us want to move? A 2019 study from the Psychology of Sport and Exercise shows that upbeat music can improve your motivation for high-intensity exercise like running. The study showed that participants had higher power output during the workout and also enjoyed it more. Fleet Feet followers have discovered this hack, too.

“Begin each day with a to do list and crank up the music. Also making workout challenges.”—sdboyer23

“Creating a new playlist gets me motivated. That and buying new shoes.”—goodgollymismolly

4. Plan a post-run treat.

Does everything taste better after a run? It seems that way. Whether it’s an indulgent Sunday brunch after your long run, or that yummy recovery smoothie, a post-run treat is an excellent motivator. And a treat doesn’t have to be food. Sometimes your recovery routine is just what you need to feel good, whether it’s a nap, a massage from your partner or a relaxing yogavideo.

“When I have something post-run. Usually food, coffee, or my recovery boots.”—Elishnfitzgerald

“Pizza. And beer.”—vinznitintin27

5. Seek community connection.

Community connection looks different when we can’t meet in groups. But it’s still possible. Virtual groupsand challenges connect people all over the world, and it can also create accountability with friends and family. Regular check-ins will keep you connected with friends or runner from your local store, even when you can’t get together. Get creative like some of our followers.

“Photo a day fitness challenges with friends and family! A fun way to stay motivated!"—pilyochoa1

“Every other day stroller jogs and challenges from FF Winston Salem.”—a.s.emert

“Leaning on my friends to stay motivated. We are holding each other accountable.”—sliv8

6. Spend quality time with loved ones (your dog counts!)

Getting out for a walk or a run is a wonderful way to spend more time with those you love. Plus, your kids or your dog may not get exercise without you. This time together is a perfect way to strengthen your bond. You can burn stress, explore new areas, and you’ll likely feel better when you get back home. Plus, exercise promotes better sleep, which can improve everyone’s mood.

“My dog insists on going on a walk every morning.”—teamhesse

“My toddler loves to go on family runs.”—doopdawson12

“Spouse core challenge. Normally we do our own thing; this mixes it up and pushes us!” —katalinsa

7. Get outside and explore new places.

The simplicity of getting outside is a motivator for those under strict lock-downs. It’s also a way to explore new areas. If you mostly just see the inside of your home these days, a little variety in the form of exercise is a perfect reason to get going. Change is critical for a happy, healthy brain. So is time spent in nature. If you have access to local trails, running or walking in a natural environment has been shown to reduce stress, rumination and risk for mental illness.

“I tell myself getting outside & moving my body (at any pace) keeps my mind & body happy!”—ccrector

“Exploring new areas that I have never been to.”—justinalpaugh

“Running all the streets in my town.”—run.craft.repeat

8. Enjoy solitude.

Solitude (when balanced with a healthy social life), is critical for mental health. If you're overwhelmed from work or family life, your time to walk or run may be your best opportunity for time on your own. According to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, alone time is crucial for self-regulation. If you’re experiencing a high-arousal state like stress or anxiety, choosing solitude allows you to achieve a much-needed sense of “deactivation” and relaxation.

“The chance to enjoy some QUIET."—foot.notes

“Quiet time for just ME!”—greengirlstl

“Staying in THE day. Not being bummed about yesterday, not anxious about tomorrow.”—amandaghent

“I always feel better after a run!”—Kellyyoungg

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