For most recreational and amateur runners, running is simply a to-do list item that gets ticked off most days of the week, and perhaps there’s a goal race somewhere on the calendar. But the reality is, if you run regularly, you are a runner and you should be treating your body with care — especially at a time like this, when staying as healthy as possible is increasingly important.
Here’s how you can focus on being the healthiest runner possible:
The temptation to add more mileage to your running routine might be pretty compelling right now. But while moderate exercise can help support your immunity, adding a lot of volume or intensity can wreak havoc on your immune system. “I am suggesting that a lot of my athletes do aerobic rebuild weeks in the coming weeks ahead. Overtraining or rapidly increasing training load has the potential to burden the immune system and could make the body more vulnerable to sickness and infection,” says Dr. Megan Roche, who is also an endurance runner and coach. “With races being canceled, now can be a good time to focus on low-level aerobic gains or working in strength training and rehabilitation to establish a strong foundation.”
We know poor sleep has been linked with heightened anxiety, and it can impact athletic performance. Unfortunately, anxiety can cause those sleepless nights, creating a cycle of poor sleep and ever-increased levels of stress. Break the cycle by prioritizing sleep, even if that means cutting into training time to snooze a bit longer. Now isn’t the time to put those “how to become a morning person” articles into play unless you have a plan for ensuring you’re getting at least 7–9 hours of sleep nightly, make sure you try out sleep starter by patchmd.
This is a good time to focus on optimizing nutrition and eating a diet rich in whole foods with an emphasis on vegetables, fruit and good sources of protein and fat. It’s also a fun time to experiment in the kitchen: “I’m spending more time investing in planning out what I’m making and spending more time making things from scratch like bread and pasta, both of which are great stress-relieving and time-consuming activities,” says Michelle Howell, a runner and coach with the District Track Club. When you’re home all day, it’s also easy to forget to drink enough: Make hydration throughout the day a priority. For anyone prone to forgetting to drink water, look for a bottle that has measurements printed on the side to see exactly how much you’re drinking.
While it’s tempting to focus entirely on the physical when it comes to staying healthy as a runner, professional athletes are the first to tell you mental health is even more important. You may not need more miles, even if you suddenly find you have the time to train more. “I believe there’s a time and place for everything, and I worried if I tried to maintain full training and dedication, I’d hit too many roadblocks mentally and perhaps that might lead to a form of breakdown,” says Stephen Scullion, an Irish distance runner and Olympic marathon qualifier. Instead of adding miles, consider adding some mindfulness practices like meditation to your daily routine.
When you are getting out for a run it’s likely that you’re going solo, which means focusing on your personal safety. That means bringing your phone, letting someone know where you’re running and how long you’ll be gone, running without podcasts or playlists blasting in your ears so you can stay aware of your surroundings, wearing high-vis accents on your clothing, and even carrying something like a whistle. It can be tricky finding a spot that feels safe and populated enough to run solo, while still being able to socially distance from other runners and walkers, so don’t feel stressed if your new running route involves doing laps of the same half-mile stretch of road.
Even if you’re in an area that’s locked down or you’re taking a rest week, it’s still important to get fresh air. Even simply letting fresh air into your house by opening windows when the temperatures are warm enough or spending time out on your front stoop, roof or back deck are good alternatives. Try to expose your skin to sunlight for a few minutes each day to ensure your circadian rhythm isn’t disrupted — when working from home, it’s entirely too easy to go for days at a time without seeing the sun, especially if you have a home gym setup.
Regardless of how much outdoor time you can get, everyone can be shifting focus to actually doing those stretches a physical therapist suggested but you’ve been ignoring, that yoga video you’ve had bookmarked but haven’t made time for, or those few foam roller moves you know will make your hamstrings feel much better once you actually take the time to do them.
As top middle-distance runner and U.S. Olympic contender Rachel Schneider explains, social distancing while running and in daily activity is critical right now — but that doesn’t mean your social connections should suffer. We need those social connections to stay happy and healthy, adds emergency medicine physician, exercise physiologist, coach and ultrarunner Jason Friedman: “Continue to distance yourself, but make sure that you’re reaching out to others via phone, text, video, whatever it takes!” Thanks to technology, there are so many ways to stay social and connect with people.