In a typical year, fall weather brings a slew of races for runners and walkers, from 5Ks to marathons. This year, most of those races have been canceled or are taking place virtually because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Even so, whether you’re training for a virtual race this year, an in-person race next year (fingers crossed) or no race at all, running is a great way to exercise and relieve stress.
And although races that bring together hundreds or thousands of runners aren’t possible right now, running as an individual or with someone you live with is a safe way to work out. When you go for a run, you’re physically distanced from others, and virus transmission is less likely outside.
“Running and walking are very beneficial to your body,” says UNC physical therapist Jeff O’Laughlin, PT, DPT. “It can improve your mood, mental health, heart health, bone health as a weight-bearing activity and additionally strengthen your muscles—all of which are very important overall, but especially during a stressful time such as this.”
Keep these four tips in mind if you want to make running a part of your wellness routine.
1. Decide on a goal.
If you want to begin running, it can help to have a goal distance in mind. For beginners, start with a 5K. Running coach Jeff Galloway has conditioning schedules that direct runners to alternate walking and running to build endurance. A personal trainer can help you follow a plan.
Your goal doesn’t have to be a race distance, of course. You can set a goal to run three days a week or to walk/run around your block every morning. The point is to set an attainable goal and go for it.
2. Don’t just run.
In addition to running or walking, it is important for runners to do strength training or yoga two to three times a week.
Strength and yoga workouts should supplement your runs, not replace them. Focus on single-leg exercises to gain strength and improve muscular imbalances.
3. Stretch and rest to prevent injury.
It is important to get your body ready for activity. Most people just go out and run. A quick, dynamic warm up can be helpful.
Warming up with a brisk walk or light jog for 10 to 15 minutes helps get your blood flowing and ensures your muscles get the oxygen they need before your workout. It also raises your body temperature, which helps with flexibility. Warm body temperature helps your muscles contract, while colder temperature causes them to stiffen.
Take one to three days off from training each week. Your days off can include stretching or yoga. If you do too much too quickly, you risk injury.
Hydration is also especially important. Make sure to drink plenty of water, and if you are increasing your mileage, consider using electrolyte replacements.
4. Take COVID-19 precautions.
Running outside is a mostly COVID-friendly activity, but you’ll still want to be careful about potential exposure to other people. Try to choose routes and times that will be less busy, and be aware of maintaining physical distance from others as you run.
Take a mask in case you need to get near another person or use an indoor restroom. Keep in mind that public water fountains may be turned off because of the pandemic, so if you’re running for a long time, you may want to carry your own water.