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5 Tips for Sticking to Running Once the Pandemic is Over

You adjusted to running in the “new normal”—now we have to remember how to train as life returns to what it was.

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Since the start of the pandemic, we have spent a lot more time interacting digitally than face-to-face. However, studies show that, in some ways, we have been a lot more active than in the past, possibly as a way to contrast all the sitting and screen time. Without having to manage work commutes, social events, or getting kids to their various extracurriculars, lots of us have found more time to get active.

According to a RunRepeat survey, runners who normally only ran once a week reported an average of 205 percent increase in activity during the week. And runners who normally ran up to three times a week increased activity by 55 percent, on average. 

And several surveys have shown that people would like to keep that level of activity up. For example, a survey conducted by shoe brand ASICS found that 36 percent of respondents were more active during the pandemic than they were before, and 73 percent of runners want to keep running as much as they were during the pandemic. A Rockport and First Insight survey found that 53 percent of Americans walked an additional 1 to 5 miles a day compared to before the pandemic, and 93 percent said they’d like to continue doing so going forward. 

How Else Did We Move in 2020?

Photo: Erin Douglas

For a lot of people, running and physical activity has been a mental release during the hardships of the past year. In that same ASICS survey, 65 percent of respondents said that the mental benefits of running outweighed any other form of physical activity. 

Interestingly, one group that saw a decline in physical activity were heavy runners, according to the RunRepeat survey. While low and moderate mileage runners increased their weekly outings, people who ran four or more times a week reported decreasing their efforts by 9 percent on average. 

Which just goes to show that people of all levels were adjusting their training to match their new pandemic lifestyles. 

But now that life beyond the pandemic is coming into view, you may be wondering (and worrying) about how to keep running when there will be so many other things to do as well. Whether you just started during the pandemic or are a seasoned runner who has simply forgotten how you managed before, here’s how to keep up a running routine during the chaos of life. 

Aim for Consistency

“As we return to normal there will certainly be more distractions, more things taking away the time that had been available for running,” says Mary Connolly, who is both a life coach and running coach. “I think the best way to overcome that is to keep reminding yourself how good running made you feel and create the space for that first.” That means carving out a routine and sticking with it. 

But be gentle with yourself. Connolly notes that the first couple months of starting a new routine can be hard to adjust to. It’s normal to be uncomfortable. 

Whether you prefer morning, afternoon, or evening running, here are some tips to fitting your run into any time of the day. 

Join a Running Group

There’s nothing quite as motivating as running with other people. Getting involved with a running group is a great way to stay accountable to your goals, create a consistent routine, and also get information you need as a new runner. 

“Don’t think you’re not fast enough or too new to running; these groups can always accommodate runners of all abilities,” says Connolly. 

If you’re about to head back to your old running group or joining a new one, here’s what you should know about managing social anxiety around running in groups again.

Learn How to Balance Life and Run Stress

Sometimes pushing yourself to go out and run when you don’t want to is going to make you stronger and more resilient. Sometimes the best self-care you can give yourself is an extra rest day. Here’s how to know if going for a run will help or hurt during tough times. 

Connolly also recommends really considering any major life events that may be on the horizon when you are signing up for races or taking on a heavy training load. For example, will training for a marathon while you are moving, changing jobs, or getting married be the best situation for you? Sure, it can be done. Just consider if the added stress will be worth it at the time or if waiting will be more beneficial. 

But you can also make a plan for stress and anxiety before (or as) they arise. “Feeling overwhelmed about ‘going back to normal’ is a very legitimate stressor,” says Connolly. If running is what helps reduce your stress, then it should be built into your new schedule where you can fit it in. Here are some tips for using your routine as a tool to cope with stress.

If something comes up unexpectedly, Connolly recommends meditating. “If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed—maybe some anxiety kicking in, heart rate is elevated—stop what you’re doing. Close your eyes. Slow your breath. Count with each inhale and exhale. Count to 100, but don’t worry if your mind wanders. That’s fine. What’s important is that you’re becoming calm, which makes it much easier to think rationally.”

Make a Plan For Nutrition

If you’re bouncing around from place to place, event to event in a way we’re no longer used to, it can be really easy to forget a meal or a snack. Proper nutrition isn’t just crucial for your training, but it’s also important for your mind and getting you through a work day. If you’re not eating as well while you’re on-the-go as you were at home, don’t be surprised if you feel that in your energy levels. 

Follow these nutrition tips to overcome the dreaded mid-afternoon energy slump. And make a plan to prepare some meals and snacks in advance.

Consider Your Options

Maybe going ‘back to normal’ isn’t what you want. Especially for office workers who have functioned well in a remote setting, there may be ways for you to craft a new way of life that doesn’t involve the traditional hustle and bustle you were used to before the pandemic. 

“Asking not to return to normal is a reasonable request,” says Connolly. And making that request boils down to understanding what you want and then communicating that effectively. She recommends making two lists answering these two questions: What do you miss about the way things were before? What did you like about life during the pandemic? Then brainstorm some ideas to get the best of both worlds. 

For example, if you really enjoy getting an extra hour of sleep on training days, maybe you can skip the commute on those days and work from home. On days that you won’t be running, those could be days where you go into the office and fulfill your need to see your coworkers and have social interaction. 

Not everyone will have that kind of flexibility. But if you think you can make it work, it never hurts to ask. “I think one of the biggest things to get through is the fear that things aren’t going to turn out the way you want,” says Connolly. She recommends preparing for the conversation by thinking through all the possible scenarios. What emotion will you have if they say no? Where else can you compromise? Create a diagram that outlines how you will respond if the person you’re negotiating with responds in various ways.  

A lot of people were able to find some form of self-care during this incredibly difficult time. It gave us space to look at life from a different angle and contemplate what’s truly important to us. “That’s where I think that hopefully through this pandemic we’ve learned that when we can carve out some time for those self-care activities whether it’s running or meditation or its a long walk in the park by ourselves, it has a lot of benefits,” says Connolly.