Times are tough, to put it mildly. New York is now at the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak and has, wisely, shut down. Your main imperative is to stay healthy –– wash your hands, keep your distance, and get your rest. Fleet Feet Albany & Malta has entered entirely uncharted territory. Last week it looked like we would be able to support your running and exercise pursuits through curbside pickup and home delivery. That ended last Saturday when Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that all employees from non-essential businesses stay home. Again, a wise move that should be replicated throughout the country. (We might all feel that we are an essential business, but let’s get a grip here… Oh, and when this is all over, let’s band together to create a society that pays nurses and grocery store workers, among others, what they are actually worth.) We might not be an essential business, but we are an essential activity: I want to reassure everyone that running is not canceled.
In fact, running (and walking) has become the one outdoor activity that is still encouraged and people are newly discovering (or rediscovering) running’s joys. On March 19, New York Times’ reporter Talya Minsberg wrote about a new running boom taking off in response to the social distancing caused by the Coronavirus –– Running From Coronavirus: A Back-to-Basics Exercise Boom. She told us that it might be the perfect sport for a pandemic: “All you need is a pair of shoes and a six-foot buffer from the next person.” It makes sense. The gyms are closed, team sports are canceled (The Tokyo Olympics just got postponed), and yoga is now a solitary pursuit.
What to do? You still need to exercise –– probably now more than ever. Not only is aerobic exercise –– better known as “cardio” –– critical for maintaining healthy lung function during this time, but it is also a great way to reduce stress. Listing the new stressors that people are currently experiencing in their lives is probably another, more depressing, type of blog (Does the term “home office” make you queasy?). Everyone is recommending that you go outside by yourself and do some running. Your body and mind will thank you.
Here’s the thing: Many of you are taking up running during a particularly (and hopefully) atypical time. During the last several decades beginner runners have been able to rely on the immediate support of running groups to help them when they were starting out. Back in the day, running was not only lonelier, but a bit more socially unacceptable. (If you want to go completely retro, call me with your projected route and I’ll drive by and throw empty beer cans at you.) There are still some beginner programs out there including Fleet Feet Albany & Malta’s (thank you internet). Essential program elements have, of course, changed. Your coach is no longer yelling encouragement at you from several feet away. Instead, they are typing encouragement. The coaching and encouragement, however, remains personal if a bit geographically removed. The actual running, once again, has become a solitary endeavor. Even for those of us who have always done the majority of their running alone, it was always motivating and fun to get together every week for a group run. I’m already missing Saturday mornings when I knew that I was going to get in a good run with the Fleet Feet Running Club. If you are a new runner through necessity –– it really is the only game in town –– please remember that you are not in this alone, although it can seem a bit lonely these days.
Congratulations, you have discovered a new way of life that will help see you through the upcoming crises that we face. Oh, and don’t give me this line about how “you’re not a real runner.” I’ve heard this so many times while fitting running shoes and it is now time to dispense with this idea for all time: Are you moving forward? Well, then, you are a real runner. Welcome. We are in this together. Be sure to recognize the sometimes imperceptible head nod when fellow runners pass (six feet, please). You are now in a community that has always been comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is good training for what lies ahead. I’m sorry that you are on your own for the actual running. As you’ve probably already discovered, running can hurt.
Here’s some advice to get started: Use a comfortable pair of running shoes. Normally, I would tell you to go to Fleet Feet to get properly fitted. This currently isn’t possible, so I’m going to let you in on the piece of advice regarding running shoes: Just make sure they’re comfortable. There shouldn’t be any rubbing or pinching. Be sure that you have at least a half to a full width of your thumb nail between your toes and the front of the shoe. Don’t be afraid of a little space. Sometimes your feet can swell when you are running.
Here’s my advice for your actual running: Start easy by doing the run/walk method. It’s as straight forward as it sounds. Start by running at an easy pace for 30 seconds followed by a brisk walk for 1:30-2:00 minutes. Are you winded? Do you need some additional recovery time? If so, add to your walk time. If you feel like this is too easy (Have you been doing the elliptical or stair master at the gym?) you can add a bit to the running portion. There is no exact science to starting out. One thing to avoid is doing too much. You want to be able to do this again –– soon. After 10-12 minutes of run/walk call it a day. You’re not yet done, however. Take an easy 3-5 minute walk to warm down, followed by some easy stretching, and drink some water to rehydrate. It’s really that easy to get started. The next day, try doing this for a little longer. There is really no reason at this point to change your run/walk ratio. Later in the week, when you start feeling like your endurance is improving, try increasing your running time to a minute and reducing your walk time. The main consideration during the first couple of weeks is to make sure that you feel good and that you don’t pile on too much distance.
You might ask: “What about running form? I remember hearing all about barefoot running a few years back and the potential criminality of heel-striking.” Thinking too much about running form during your first days can be like opening a can of worms. The most recent studies indicate that your body will adapt to the most efficient and comfortable form that is best for you. My advice is to not worry about it too much right now (I’ll discuss form in some future blogs). There is, however, a brilliant way to think about running form, that has been conveyed by coaches for a long time: pretend that you are running on hot coals or broken eggs. The best way to navigate this terrain would be to take light, short steps and spend as little amount of time on the ground as possible. This strategy makes sure that you are not over striding or landing too heavily. Think about small quick steps and keeping comfortable. Remember that the main consideration when starting out is to avoid injury. Keep it simple, be relaxed, and have fun, so that you can go out and do it again. Consistency will help to make running not merely a way to get exercise, but an activity to enjoy, and ultimately, a way of life. I’m sorry that a pandemic compelled you to become a runner; but you are going to be happy that you took the plunge. Stay safe out there.