Running During Coronavirus: How I’m Keeping My First Half-Marathon Goal

Photo: courtesy of the author
Running During Coronavirus: How I’m Keeping My First Half-Marathon Goal
Health And Wellness

Before the world exploded, before the world was stricken with millions of cases of COVID-19 and all public events were cancelled — including all sports and gatherings — I was training for my first half-marathon.

It was a strange decision for me. When I was younger, I had a saying. “I’m not running unless there is chocolate in front of me or a guy with an ax behind me.”

I hated running with a passion. I could dance, ride horses and hike for hours, but something about running made me cringe. That all changed once I decided to do this half-marathon. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

When my race was canceled, I was heartbroken. I’d been training for months, fighting every “I hate running” instinct I’d ever had, and now I wouldn’t have the experience of running with everyone, seeing the signs, and realizing my body could actually do this.

So I decided to run my first half-marathon anyway.

Yes, running during coronavirus isolation is OK as long as you are not sick, you keep "social distance" of at least six feelt, and try to run in uncrowded spaces at off-peak times. In some cities, like Los Angeles, you may need to wear a mask any time you are out of your home, so bear that in mind and always follow the laws and regulations in your area.

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I’m not joining thousands of other women (and some men) for the Nike Women’s 13.1. Instead, because of COVID-19, I’m running the 13.1 miles in my neighborhood, alone, except for one friend who is going to join me from a safe distance away.

It’s hardly the crowd I expected, but my boyfriend is still going to hold up a sign for me and I’m even packing a fanny pack full of peanuts to throw to squirrels in the park.

I originally intended to write this article to tell you how to train for a half-marathon if you’re over 40, like I am. I’m still going to tell you that.

Before I do, however, I want to say something else.

Having a fitness goal, even if it’s an altered one, has kept me sane (or as sane as anyone can be) through the coronavirus crisis. Having something to train for, even if it’s just for me, has forced me to go outside and get fresh air, instead of sitting on the couch sobbing. Sure, I’ve done that as well, but the physical exercise has really helped.

I’ll add my tips for running during coronavirus at the bottom, but let me tell you how it all began, and what you can do if you want to give this a shot. ;

Last October, I got a notification about a Jurassic World-themed 10K at Universal Studios Hollywood. I’d been publicly telling everyone I wanted to try it, and it was "put up or shut up" time, so I signed up.

The first day I ran 10K on the treadmill in my building’s always-empty, postage stamp-sized gym. I did it, huffing and puffing the entire way, just to see if I could. I was so proud. I was also stupid. When I woke up the next day, I was in agony. I told my boyfriend that I lived on the floor now.

I made myself run 5K the next day. It hurt, but I put on good music (very angry metal) and tried to pace myself. Then my knees started to hurt. I polled my Facebook friends and my buddy Jack told me about patellar straps. They’re basically a bar that you wrap and velcro under your kneecap. They were a revelation. Now it was just the rest of my body that hurt.

The race went well (I walked for a little bit of it, I got a dinosaur medal, and I absolutely felt like Batman). A few weeks ago, I signed up for the Nike Women’s 13.1 half marathon.


The author and a friend after completing her first 10K race

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A 10K is doable for a new runner, if intense. A half-marathon is no joke, so I consulted some people about what this entails.

Dr. Janina Scarlet, licensed psychologist and author of Dark Agents gave me some advice about the psychological effects of running in your 40s.

She explained, “Training for a long distance run at any age can be challenging. We have preconceived notions that we can’t do something just because we’ve never done it before or because it’s not easy. We believe that we are incapable because this belief has become a habit. But here’s the thing - all challenges are meant to be challenging. It’s in the name. The trick is to take one small step. In order to run a half-marathon, we need to first learn to run for 10 seconds. The more such exercises we can do, the more our body starts believing that we are capable. The rest is up to you.”

The first thing everyone tells you when you start a new exercise program is to consult a doctor.

Mine said, “Oh, cool.”

I guess that means I’m in shape enough to do it?

However, I also heard from Dr. Jeremy Flagel, MD, from Insight Integrative Health, who said, “[Running has] been shown to lower and better regulate the stress hormone cortisol, improve sleep, regulate blood sugar and improve cardiovascular function. The added benefit for women over 40 is that managing these things also helps regulate hormones like estrogen and progesterone and can decrease peri-menopausal symptoms like hot flashes."

"The thing I love the most," he explained, "is that when these are more in balance, our brains are happier and mood, concentration and enjoyment tends to be greater as well. This is borne out in the research to no surprise. It also boosts production of a Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which helps boost the brains ability to make connections between nerve cells. BDNF has been shown to be higher when mood is good, lower in depression, and protective against dementia.”

Dr. Flagel also spoke about the challenges. “Overtraining can be an issue and doing too much, too fast for those who are just getting started increases the risk of injury.”

Perhaps I should have consulted him sooner?

“It's also important to find the right amount of exercise your body can tolerate and build as it lets you," he explained.

"Long distance running puts prolonged stress on our adrenal glands which, when balanced, makes us stronger. When it's not balanced by enough rest, recovery, nutrition and sleep, our adrenals can suffer, and in some there is a risk of a significant drop in our bodies ability to respond to the stress of every day life. A good rule of thumb is to do today, what you can easily repeat tomorrow while building up.”


Photo courtesy of the author

By the way, if you’d like a reasonable training program to get you through six weeks of training for a half-marathon, there are lots of good ones online that'll help you not overdo it, like this one. After all, excercise is a great stress-management tool — something we all need during this pandemic.

My training program was slightly less reasonable when I started.

I ran 5K every day, then I slowly increased to 10k by adding a little every other day. After two weeks of this, I ran 13.1 miles, just to see if I could.

Do not do what I did. A slow ramp-up is a better idea.

Since then I did five miles a day for a week, then increased every other day to 7.5 miles, with one distance run a week, which is 10 miles. I take one day off a week. The last week, I tapered off, doing seven miles a day for the first three days, then five miles, then three miles.

My race is on Sunday, so I’m doing one mile slowly the day before. I’m nervous for my solo race, but I’m excited as well. I find that I actually miss running the longer stretches while I’m tapering off.

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Here are some tips for your first half-marathon that I’ve found helpful.

  • Get good sneakers. Last year’s models are usually discounted. Do your research though, and get ones that are made for runners. Once you have them, don’t change shoes too close to a race.
  • If you find yourself flagging, you can use energy gels or chews. You probably won’t need them for a 5K, but once you hit 10, you’ll find your neck feels gritty from the salt you’re losing. I can’t drink liquid when I run (give me a stitch), so the gels are great. You should bring water. It’s important if you don’t have that stupid thing I do. (I have one friend who downs mustard packets. I have not tried this.)
  • The night before the race, I eat carbs and drink a ton of liquid. That way, when I get up, I don’t have to have much. It sucks to have to pee during a race.
  • Make sure you’re eating well. You do need carbs, so choose healthy ones like whole grains and fruits. Take vitamins (and make sure you consult that doctor). Drink enough water. If you don’t, you’ll feel dizzy and grumpy, and yell at the cats, who definitely haven't done anything wrong.
  • Sleep. Go to bed early. So early that your partner laughs at you. I’ve been crashing between 9:30 and 10 since I started training. I’m a party animal, you guys.
  • Get some good music. I got a subscription to Spotify so I could make a playlist for myself. There are even running playlists that already exist. Podcasts/audiobooks are a good distraction if you need it.
  • A treadmill is very different than running outside. it’s great in a pinch, but oh boy, do you use different muscles. If you’re switching from inside to outside as I did recently, drop your distance until your body gets used to it.
  • Learn the difference between good and bad pain. Sore is one thing, but if something feels wrong, get it checked out immediately.
  • Rest. I am very bad at this, but you have to take days off. If you don’t, your body will let you know how angry it is. Your muscles need to recover.
  • Stretch. Do not skip this step. Do it before and after running or you will regret it. Don’t believe me? Just suffer through one Charlie horse when you wake up in the morning, and I guarantee, you will.
  • Find a community on social media. I post about my runs to keep myself honest. I follow #running on Instagram for inspiration. If you like company for runs, it’s a great way to find out which of your friends do it as well. If you’re starting out, let me know! The more virtual running buddies, the merrier!

And here are some tips specific to running during coronavirus.

  • No matter what, stay six feet away from everyone else. This might mean running a little slower, or running out into the street or on the grass. Make sure to check over your shoulder for traffic if you go into the street. It’s worth stopping if you need to. Your safety and the safety of others is more important than timing.
  • Wear a mask. I’m currently trying to figure out how to sew one from the bandana I have from an ‘80s costume party and the sewing kits I take from hotel rooms. Again, this might make you slower, but so what?
  • Tell people what you’re doing. It’s very easy to get sucked into the couch with everything going on out there. It’s very easy to give up. See if your friends will run virtually with you in their own neighborhoods. Posting keeps you from faltering.
  • If you can’t leave, heck, run in your house! I live in a tiny place, and yes, I’ve done this before. This guy ran an entire marathon in France on his balcony. Yeah, it was slower, but who cares? He did it, and so can you.

Good luck, happy running, and stay safe out there!

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Jenna Busch is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Legion of Leia (now part of Vital Thrills) and has hosted and written for sites like SYFY Fangrrls, Nerdist, ComingSoon.net, Metro, Birth. Movies. Death., IGN, AOL, The Washington Post, Huffington Post and more. She is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, as well as the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society. Follow Jenna's running adventures on Instagram.

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