Going solo: Running when social distancing

The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone, and is understandably causing a great deal of worry.In this article we first look at what the current UK guidelines are for running during the coronavirus pandemic; then look at how to get the most out of your running at this time.

Adapting and adjusting to our new responsibilities

For many runners, getting out and moving is not just how we look after our physical health, but offers benefits to our mental wellbeing too. The possibility of restrictions on movement and exercise will have worried many runners.

With this in mind, runners in the UK will have been relieved to learn that one outside exercise session a day would be a permitted exception to the ‘lockdown’ restrictions announced by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on Monday 23 March 2020 – provided ‘social distancing’ guidelines are adhered to.

Please note: We’ve tried to be accurate and up-to-date, but it is always better to look for official advice rather than rely on third party articles on the internet (like this one). The situation is constantly evolving and differs from country to country, so always refer to the most recent guidance issued by your government as to what is or isn’t permitted or recommended where you live.

The UK Government guidance, as of 23 March

For clarity, the UK Government guidance, at the time of writing, is this:

“You should only leave the house for one of four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise per day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

These four reasons are exceptions – even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside your household.

These measures must be followed by everyone. Separate advice is available for individuals or households who are isolating, and for the most vulnerable who need to be shielded.”

These restrictions will be in place for at least three weeks.

Can I run?

In this regard, the advice for UK-based Lonely Goats is clear:

Unless you are isolating, you can run. But, you can only do one form of outside exercise per day, and must do it on your own or with a member of your household. In addition, you should ensure you are 2 metres apart from anyone you don’t live with, and you should minimise the time spent outside of your home.

This last point is arguably the most open to interpretation. After all, we might all have different views on what constitutes minimising time spent outside.

Abuse it, and lose it

For everyone’s safety, this ‘grey area’ should not be abused.

Most of us love (or, ‘love-hate’) a weekly long run, for example, but it is unlikely to help the situation if runners try to spend as much time as possible running outdoors.

The longer you are outside, the longer you have the potential to come into contact with other people – even accidentally – thus prolonging the coronavirus pandemic and increasing the chances of further restrictions on our movement.

It should also be remembered that hard training (be it lots of speed work, high mileage, or not getting enough rest) can suppress your immune system.

Please, be safe and sensible. If not for yourself, for everyone else.

Run as much as you need to look after your mental and physical health, but no more – please.

Running solo

OK, that’s the serious bit out of the way. Now to the more enjoyable part.

How to make the most of running solo at this time, and have fun doing it.

Firstly, as Lonely Goats, we’re in an enviable position compared to many runners – we’re already used to running on our own!

A lot of us have joined Lonely Goat Running Club because we either can’t, or don’t want to, run with a conventional running club. Therefore, we’re probably not having to come to terms that we’re not going to be able to run with our usual training buddies.

This doesn’t mean we won’t face challenges though.

With races postponed or cancelled some of us will be struggling with motivation. Plus, with a need to maintain 2 metres between ourselves and other people, some of us will be struggling to think of ways to do this if we live in built-up areas.

Look for the opportunities

With no races, no parkruns, and a change in your usual routine, this is a chance to focus on areas of your running that you may have neglected.

If you’ve got a niggle or injury you’ve been struggling with, easing back on running could be what your body needs. Likewise, if you want to work on your running form, now is a good time to think about your gait and try to finesse your style.

Are there places near you that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to run through, as they’re too busy, or you have to run when it’s dark? Or are you having to find new places to run that take you away from places where other people might be out and about?

With a change in daily routine, this could be an opportunity to explore your neighbourhood. You might even end up finding your new favourite running route.

It could also be an opportunity to remind yourself why you love running.

Minimise the stressors

The Covid-19 coronavirus is causing enough stress, without us adding more of our own making.

Running should be a thing we enjoy and a break from all the other stressors in our lives. This situation can be an opportunity to reassess our relationship with running and remember what it is that we love about it.

In some cases, what started as a simple form of exercise has become more complex as our goals change and we get more absorbed by running and everything that surrounds it.

Lose the watch?

Many runners thrive on seeing what the watch says at the end of the run. They get a buzz from pushing themselves further or faster than they did before. If you enjoy this, and remember not to overtrain, then good for you.

However, if you ever find yourself feeling stressed by the thought of having to hit certain times or distances, then feel free to ignore your watch (or phone, if that’s what you use) for the next few weeks.

Even if you want to record the stats so you can log your run afterwards, there are ways of hiding this information from yourself while running. You can simply stick tape over your watch face or put your watch in a pocket, for example.

The advantage of not being preoccupied with your speed or distance, is that you’ll have time to enjoy other sensory experiences you might otherwise be missing out on.

External senses

Those external sensory experiences might be:

  • Bird song;
  • The wind in the trees;
  • The distant bark of a dog;
  • Noticing the routines of your neighbours;
  • The sunrise, sunset, phases of the moon and the tides;
  • The smell of a farm or a cut lawn;
  • The rumble of a train going by (hopefully only with key workers on board).
  • The changing wildlife and natural environment as we move through the Spring.

In the UK, magnolias, camellias, and rhododendrons are all coming into bloom at the moment. How many can you spot on your run?

Internal senses

Many of us rely on our devices to tell us how we are running. We can measure cadence (the number of steps per minute), speed, distance, pace and heart rate. Some devices can even measure how long our feet spend on the ground with each step, or how high in the air we bounce.

While these devices might be able to present this data in a handy number for us to put in our training diaries, it is perfectly possible to notice these variables ourselves, just by paying attention to our bodies.

Here are some suggestions of things your body does when running that you can pay attention to:

  • Breathing – How hard are you breathing? Are you out of breath, or finding it easy? How does your breathing change as you go up or down hill, or speed up and slow down? Are you taking deep or shallow breaths?
  • Foot strike – Are you landing on your toes, midfoot, or heels? If you change this, does anything else change? What happens if you increase or decrease your cadence? Or run with shorter or longer strides? How loud are your steps (quiet steps tend to cause fewer impact injuries)?
  • Muscle ache – Does anything hurt? Do niggles that you feel at the start of a run disappear as the run continues? Do some new niggles appear instead? What causes the most achiness: running fast or slow, uphill or down, on road or off?
  • Concentration – Do you zone out, or do you concentrate throughout the run? Which of these suits you better?
  • Energy levels – Are you running out of energy or do you think you could keep going? Are you thirsty or dehydrated?
  • Your arms – What are they doing? Could they move more efficiently?
  • Pace – How accurately can you judge your pace without looking at a watch?

If you get in the habit of noticing some of these external sensory experiences, you may find that your times improve, or you get fewer injuries, as you learn to listen to your body and better judge your pace, effort, running form and energy levels.

At the very least, it might help you develop a new relationship with your body, where you are better able to appreciate the incredible machine it is and the amazing things you can do with it.

Be safe

If you are able to run, and choose to do so, please be safe. The emergency services are under incredible strain at the moment, so anything we can do to avoid accidentally ending up in A&E would probably be appreciated by those on the front line.

The usual common sense precautions apply:

  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be home;
  • Wear appropriate kit;
  • Carry ID;
  • Carry any medication you need and details of any medical conditions;
  • Avoid tricky routes that could lead to you falling and injuring yourself;
  • Try not to get lost up a mountain.

As an additional point, remember that it is perfectly acceptable to decide that you don’t want to run outdoors. 

Community is more important than ever

Yes, we’re Lonely Goats – and some of us might be isolating right now – but we’re never alone. We’re all members of our local community, even if we don’t necessarily know all our neighbours. We’re also all members of the wonderful Lonely Goat Running Club herd.

If you’re able to be outside and see someone else, consider giving them a nod, wave or smile – it could go a long way right now.

Now, more than ever, is a time to appreciate the people around us.

Remember, lots of people are having to isolate themselves either because they’re ill or because other health conditions put them at greater risk of harm from Covid-19.

There are people who are desperately ill in hospital and people who are coming to terms with losing people they love.

If you’re able to run, please do so with gratitude that you can get out there, and compassion for those that can’t.

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