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Surviving lockdown - keeping your head and your fitness

Photo of Susie Chan courtesy of Phil Hill

Surviving lockdown - keeping your head and your fitness

14-Apr-20

By Sarah Cooke

Disclaimer: I cannot tutor your kids, speed up government grants, make your partner do the washing up or even find a shop stocking that elusive toilet roll. What I will try to do is suggest ways in which you can channel the stuff that normally gets vented on the run whilst you’re in lockdown.

Firstly, if you can still safely run then do so - i.e. if it is permitted by your government and if you are not self-isolating for medical reasons. Most of us are now restricted to routes we can run from our doorstep. Some people will be required to remain within a certain distance of home and may have a time limit on their exercise.

Make the most of what you ARE allowed to do rather than spending time wishing you could drive to a different location or run a longer distance or take part in a group run. Long runs are not the only way to maintain endurance. Speed work and hill sessions will help you get the most out of your time outdoors. If you don’t have hills on your doorstep then try and find some steps or do a flat run with some weight in your pack.

If you usually run in a group and you don’t live with anyone who runs then arrange to run at the same time as a friend but in different locations. This pre-arranged commitment may help when motivation is low.

What about if you are motivated to run but what you’re currently able to do just isn’t ticking your boxes? Maybe you miss the endorphins, the flexibility to run more than once a day or you usually engage in more than one sport and now have to choose.

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There are other forms of exercise that can be done at home. This might be blasphemy to some but if you have a treadmill then this may help you get your endorphin fix. If not then there are plenty of online videos offering PE, HIIT and similar. Yes, I know, it’s not the same as running. However, on your usual long run day, if you do one of these sessions and then head out for a short run then you are teaching your body to run when it is tired - an invaluable part of ultra training.

The new craze for running long distances in your garden (if you have one) may appeal if you like a challenge. However, please do be careful not to injure yourself or overdo things - this isn’t the time to need medical treatment. If you have been training hard so far this year then it’s a great time to ease off on mileage and allow your body to repair. You will likely reap the benefits further down the line.

If you are feeling aimless with all the uncertainty of when you may next have a race then consider a plan to keep you focused. Skype your training buddies, talk to your coach if you have one and set yourself goals if that is what works for you. This also applies to your non-running life!

Not everyone will want a plan during this period. It’s a tough time and you need to do whatever is going to give you a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. If you need to take the pressure off and ‘just run’ then do so. You can re-embrace the challenge of training when lockdown is lifted.

However, I recommend that you have some kind of structure and routine to your day. If you are working from home, try to maintain a consistent start and finish time and schedule regular breaks. Prioritise tasks and tick them off as you go to promote a sense of achievement. It may be helpful to use a run as your reward at the end of the day or as a welcome lunch break.

If you are educating and occupying children during this period or suddenly find yourself spending all day every day with your partner then getting out for a run may be beneficial for you and for them. If you can’t get out to run then try to schedule time each day for yourself. Maybe you can shut yourself in a room for a home workout. Perhaps it’s a phone call or another activity. However much you love your family it is ok to need a bit of space.

Conversely, if you live alone then this may be a difficult time. Keep in touch with your running buddies and work colleagues. Check in with your family. Share goals or challenges to keep each other motivated to stay active. Don’t spend all day watching the news or scrolling through social media.

The World Health Organisation has acknowledged the likely impact of lockdowns and quarantine on people’s mental health.  Whilst you need to be informed, reading about the virus every few minutes is likely to increase your anxiety. Exercise can be a helpful way of managing these feelings,  so try to find a way to move around even if you can’t get outside to run.

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A recent News18 article  suggested that athletes may be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems as a result of lockdown. However, whilst staying at home does have a bigger impact on those who are usually active than those who aren’t, runners have some advantages.

Ultra marathons are not a team sport. We don’t face months of being unable to engage in our exercise of choice. Most of us can at least get out for short periods. For those who  can’t, this is likely to be a short-term restriction. If we emerge from lockdown but are still advised to social distance then team sports will remain out of the question.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I am used to spending a large chunk of my day outdoors either running or walking my dogs. One outing feels difficult. For some, cutting distance or not being in a race environment will be a challenge. However, spending most of your day at home does make you appreciate any time out that you can get.

If you are worried about fitness then focus on how to get the most benefit from whatever activity you are able to do. If it’s the endorphins or the headspace you need then experiment with indoor exercise or other activities combined with short runs. At the same time, don’t slack on eating and sleeping well - keep as much of your usual routine as possible.

There is no getting away from the fact that this situation is tough. You are not expected to sail through it. Doing the best you can is enough. If running helps then get out if and when you can. If you need to focus on other things to get through this period then that is fine too. Fitness loss will be small. You weren’t born an ultra runner. You became one through hard work. A fraction of the same again will get you back there when life returns to normal.

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