Covid-19 & The Birth of My Run Streak
50 days ago, I began quarantining myself and my kids to help flatten the curve. The covid-19 pandemic was just starting to be taken seriously by trump’s administration. I had been following the coronavirus closely and decided, just days before the rest of Oregon, to hole up at home just to be on the safe side. Knowing that this would put an end to some of my favorite daily activities, like hitting the gym and getting out in the evenings to see friends, I decided to try something I had never done before: a run streak. A run streak is simply running on consecutive days for a set period. I was going to run every day of quarantine.
I have considered myself a runner for approximately the last 10 years. I have run countless 5ks and 10ks; several half marathons; even more multi-day, cross-country relays; and I have even completed a 50k—but I’ve never successfully maintained a true run streak. To say that I love running is an understatement. As someone who has lived with panic disorder and generalized anxiety for over 25 years, I depend on running for my mental, emotional, and physical health.
While I’ve been able to manage my anxiety with regular exercise and some simple stress-relief practices, I knew that dealing with the reality of an ongoing quarantine and the covid-19 pandemic had the potential to wreak havoc on my nervous system. So, in an effort to continue to remain medication-free and mentally and emotionally healthy, I decided to try something I have never done for more than a week or two successfully before and vowed to run every day as long as quarantine lasted.
When this all started, now 50 days ago, I didn’t know that stay-at-home orders for the covid-19 pandemic would last more than a couple of weeks. I foolishly thought that the shutdown would last a month at the longest and that I would be heading back to the gym a couple of days each week by now. As we all know, I was sorely mistaken.
My Run Streak Rules
As I said, I have attempted run streaks in the past, but they have never lasted more than a week or so. To have completed my 50th day in a row of running feels like a pretty big deal. With many miles behind me since I began this challenge, I’ve spent a good amount of time over the last couple of days reflecting on what made it possible for me to be successful at this challenge and what I’ve learned over the last 50 days of running.
The main things that made this challenge pretty easy for me, are the rules. Before embarking on my run streak, I set some simple rules:
- I had to run every day, or my run streak would be broken
- Runs could be no shorter than 1 mile
- Runs could be no longer than 10 miles
With minimal expectations, I felt minimal stress. I could let go of speed. I could stop and stretch or drink water whenever I wanted. Having a real loose daily schedule was also a huge help. With everything shut down for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic, there were few things that had to be done at any set time during the day.
As I mentioned, I learned a lot about myself and running over the past 50 days. Much of it is worth sharing with others who are looking for a way to stay sane and healthy for the duration of the pandemic…or anytime really. If running is something you enjoy or are considering picking up as a form of exercise, the following are some lessons, tips, and tricks I’ve learned from my run streak so far.
Note: I, at no time ,have come within 10 feet or less of people passing by in the interest of social distancing.
22 things I’ve Learned from my 50 Day Run Streak
Running every day without injury is possible! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that running every day is bad for you and that it causes injuries. There’s no doubt that injuries can occur while running every day, but they don’t have to occur. I would argue, that if you listen to your body and take the precautions necessary (go to what I learned about stretching and stopping), it’s quite easy to avoid injury.
Stretching is not optional. I can not say this enough, stretching, stretching and more stretching is necessary for a successful, injury-free run streak. I stretch for a good 5 to 10 minutes before and after I run. These stretches are non-negotiable. I also typically stretch later in the evening before bedtime.
Stop and stretch when pain occurs. I never try to run through pain. If I’m running and I feel a pinch or a muscle spasm in my foot, ankle, knee or hip I may slow my stride and loosen my body up for a few steps to see if I can shake it off, but if it continues or happens again, I stop and stretch. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had pulled a muscle or tweaked my ankle wrong, only to find out that I just needed to stretch a little more. I’ve also been surprised to find out that sometimes a problem in my foot or ankle is relieved by loosening up my thighs or hips.
Stop before you are exhausted. Run streaks require running every day. If you exhaust yourself to the point of needing a full 24 hours of complete rest, you are screwed. Listen to your body. You aren’t in a race against anyone else. Speed and duration beyond a mile mean nothing in this particular challenge. I always stop running before I’m completely exhausted. When I start to feel tired on my longer runs, I ask myself, “Can I keep running at this pace for at least another 10 minutes?” My mile pace is somewhere between 9.5 and 10.5 minutes per mile. The minute the answer becomes a “maybe” or a “probably not”. I stop.
Stop if injury may occur. Fortunately, I’ve only had a couple of days out of the 50 when I thought I may be dealing with an injury. My right Achilles began to ache and I couldn’t tell if it was just a sore muscle or a real injury. For approximately 3 consecutive days, I ran no more than one to two miles. And I ran them while paying close attention to my stride and the level of discomfort. While cardiovascularly, I was dying to run further, I decided to err on the side of caution until I knew my body was safe.
You need to do more than run. I want to be absolutely clear about this, I don’t think I could have maintained my run streak if I hadn’t also been doing other physical activities. Along with running, I have a row machine I hop on for 20 to 30 minutes 2 to 3 times a week, I do an ab workout for at least 5 minutes every night, and I also do floor and resistance band exercises to build strength. Without a doubt, the strength I’ve built from these exercises has made running so much safer and easier for me along the way. Your whole body is used for running. The stronger your arms and core are, the smoother and safer your runs will be.
Ice is the magical silver bullet every runner needs. Twice now, I have had to take an ice bath to relieve muscle soreness. A little over halfway into my run streak, my leg muscles began to feel irrecoverably fatigued. I’ve always struggled with restless leg syndrome, and it had become relentless. After one of my long runs (6 miles), I took an ice bath. The relief was immediate. I’ve considered taking an ice bath once a week, as I’ve started to almost enjoy them (note: I always bring a cocktail in the ice bath with me…it helps). As of yet, I haven’t had to take ice baths often, but every time I do, the recovery is fast and my restless and achy legs feel instantly refreshed.
You can’t eat whatever you want. So…I’ll admit it, for the first three weeks of quarantine, I binge ate everything in the house along with running every day. I’ll say this, I gained way less weight than I should have. But, I definitely did gain weight. Once I returned to my normal eating schedule about 3.5 weeks ago, the extra pounds melted off and I have continued to slim down. Don’t use your run streaks as an excuse to overeat.
Run streaks can relieve stress. I read an article in which the writer, a weightloss professional, claimed that run streaks increase runners’ stress levels, which increases their cortisol levels leading to weight gain. I’m here to tell you that you can find stress relief with a run streak. I find if I go on my run first thing in the morning, my anxiety stays low throughout the day. If I have anxiety before my run, and I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that could easily turn into a panic attack, it’s mostly dissipated by the end of my run. There’s no question that running affects individuals differently. In my case, my runs aren’t stressful. Knowing that I only have to complete one mile (10 minutes of exercise), keeps my run streak stress free and fairly therapeutic.
Running every day keeps you clean. I have never stayed on top of the laundry as well as I have since starting my run streak. I have a limited number of running outfits, and I can’t justify washing just a couple of items of clothing. The laundry never piles up anymore.
You must stay hydrated. If you don’t drink enough water, you’ll feel it during your run real quick. Stay on top of your hydration.
Running every day makes you nicer. Well, it makes me nicer. I’m far more capable of managing my reaction to stressful events since I’ve been running every day. My kids are no longer hiding from me on a daily basis.
Age nor injury should keep you from trying a run streak. To be clear, I am on the verge of turning 46, and I am currently recovering from multiple injures including a third-degree sprained ankle, torn hip flexors and a torn rotator cuff that were caused by a combination of three years of bad yoga instruction and being crushed by a log at the beach (that’s a story for later). Running has played a huge role in what I feel is an incredible recovery.
Running every day has helped me love my body. Our society makes it hard for women to love the body they are living in. I am incredibly critical of myself, as many are. Running every day has given me so much appreciation for the gift that is my body. Yay, for improving my self love!
Run streaks get you outside. Before my run streak, I could easily go a whole day without really getting outside. This challenge has forced me out of my house in all types of weather. To my surprise, I love running in colder, wetter conditions. And, I don’t need to tell you how important getting fresh air is for your mental health as well as your physical health.
Sunscreen is your best friend. Always wear sunscreen when you run out in the elements. You can burn even when it’s cloudy.
You gotta wear shades. I like to look like a movie star when I run. I shamelessly wear oversized, bejeweled sunglasses, and so should you. Running outdoors will quickly take a toll on your eyes. Protect them.
Retail therapy is a must. If you don’t already have a good number of running outfits, now’s the perfect time to online shop for some gear. Ladies, do not re-wear a running outfit, even if you only run one mile. You deserve better than that.
My run streak improved my hygiene. This is particularly relevant now that we are all staying at home. I’ve seen all of the posts sharing how apathy is keeping people from changing out of their pajamas and showering regularly. Running every day gives you no other choice than to shower regularly. I swear I’ve looked more put together than I have in years since starting this challenge.
Go ahead and drink but…not too much. While there are some great quarantine cocktails out there, running with a hangover sucks! Suffering through that kind of pain is sure to keep the number of your evening cocktails in check for the duration of your run streak.
One mile counts as a rest day. One mile takes no more than 10 to 14 minutes to complete. On the days I have run only one mile, I feel more than adequately rested the next day. If 15 minutes of cardio is too much for you, now is a good time to talk to your health care provider to get support with increasing your cardio health.
Friends make it possible. I have been fortunate to have a friend and loved one willing to bike next to me and carry my water on longer runs–and also run with me for shorter runs. This has made this challenge so much easier. I can not possibly stress enough how important support is.
With no end to the covid-19 pandemic in sight, I have no idea how long this run streak will last. I’ll most certainly keep going as long as I can, and there’s no question that I’ll learn more along the way. If you have never run before, and you are interested in starting your own run streak, I suggest you make your minimum distance much shorter. A quarter to a half-mile at most. There’s no reason you can’t walk as long as you want when you are done.
And, for those of you who are wondering what the average distance I run is, I’ve averaged my weekly mileage over the last 50 days and it comes out consistently somewhere between three to four miles a day. I typically run just one mile after a long run, and my long runs are no more than six or seven miles. Now get out there, and enjoy a beautiful spring run.