General RunningSite FeatureSport Psych

A COVID-19 Mental Health Guide For Runners

Below is an excerpt from an email on Wednesday, March 11:

5:11 AM

Subject: Bayou City Classic Countdown!

            “The Bayou City Classic is still scheduled for Saturday, March 14.” As a precaution, we are adding a number of hand sanitizing stations throughout the post-race party and along the course….We are working with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and will follow it’s recommendations.”

Later that day…

2:11 PM

Subject: BAYOU CITY CLASSIC CANCELLED FOR THIS WEEKEND!

            “Regrettably, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events is canceling large events in Houston….We respect the city’s decision and want our running community to remain healthy.”

Well, that escalated quickly.

I’m confident most of you either received something like this in your inboxes or have felt varying levels of confusion and stress from the COVID-19 pandemic in recent days. My heart goes out to everyone who was prepping for Boston and other big events this spring. It was especially gut-wrenching to see my collegiate athletes have their seasons prematurely end. No doubt, what we’re dealing with isn’t fair. But this is beyond our control.

To be transparent, I’m still trying to process everything and cope with this myself. It’s not the germs or virus itself that causes me anxiety, but the uncertainty. Like most runners, I like my routine, control, and predictability. Initially, I was pissed about my race getting canceled and me not being able to use my great fitness; that quickly shifted to worrying about my clients and my practice in the upcoming weeks.

I was not getting anywhere with this negatively-biased, conjecture-focused thinking, so I pulled back and had the good ol’ “what would you tell your athletes right now” talk with myself.

Fortunately, not all of our routine, control, and predictability is lost, despite the fact that our work schedules are wrecked, gyms are closed, and social distancing has broken up our running groups.

Hear me out. Our responses collectively and as individuals can be explained by the Cognitive-Behavioral model. Right now, many of us are unknowingly falling into the fallacy of distorted thinking– in this case, black-or-white thinking.

Times like this require creativity, flexibility, and resilience, and as athletes, we already possess everything we need to cross the eventual finish line of this awful bug. However, if we reach the point of high stress or overwhelm, it’s hard to think clearly and rationally.

Remember that time you thought you were seriously done in a race or workout and you came through to finish it anyway? Yeah, that moment was really just a little about running and a lot about life. Even with sports shut down, we’re still athletes and we can apply our experience and strength in times of uncertainty. We can create space for ourselves to grow in the unknown and we can work with discomfort, albeit a different type.

My goal with this guide is to discuss some ways to navigate these unstable waters as runners, and well, just as humans. I know there is a lot of this info already circulating on the internet and social media, but here’s what I see from where I stand as a sport psychologist.

1) Embrace The Space

Just as the title speaks, embrace the space we’re instructed to maintain. Big race postponed or canceled? Guess what? We have a chance to regroup and get even stronger than before. When it comes to the whole “social distancing” thing, we may not like it, but the more we practice it and take the situation seriously, the sooner the curve flattens. While it’s harder to connect on a physical level, we can still exist as a community through social media, social distance running with a friend or partner, etc. The global running community is far from being canceled.

While we are in this season, why not allow yourself time to slow down, reset, and focus on different things? For me personally, I’m allowing myself to slow the pace down (both at work and in running). Little did I know, I’ve found that I enjoy it. We live in a world where we are constantly being pulled in different directions and preparing for the result of something. Pause and live in the moment. One way to do this is to take a moment to appreciate what’s right in front of you, like your spouse, home, pet, or anything of that nature. Enjoy being able to sit at home comfortably and appreciate your health. Also, if you still find yourself frustrated, allow yourself to feel it.

2) Limit Screen Time

Know what media to consume and when to consume it and try and stay below that limit. Social media and the news have been both an asset and a catalyst for the emotional rollercoaster we’ve been on the last week or so. I’m recommending everyone take some media-free time, whether that be an hour or days.

If you are curious about updates, I say stick to the CDC guidelines or the World Health Organization. Some Op-Eds are helpful, but they can trigger more distress and uncertainty in some of us. Know what to do and how to take care of yourself/others but take into consideration how much YOU can actually digest. Every one of us is different in this.

3) Adust Your Training Properly

What do we do about training? Okay, I’m not a coach, and there are a few schools of thought on what to do now that your marathon or track season is derailed (Coach Dave Ames can back me up or add to this). Some say keep training just as you normally do– workouts, long runs, and all. Depending on who you are, I say proceed with caution because there is a balance of running being a stress reliever and a stressor. We go over the Lactate Threshold, cortisol levels rise, and we get into stress territory. Health experts are telling us to keep stress down, so this is something to consider.

Again, this depends on the athlete and the situation. In my opinion, this space is good to remind us why we run, or perhaps even repurpose our running to tap more into what it does physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. You know, stuff beyond the clock and finish line.

One thing I do suggest is to keep your routine and your running consistent. Keep up with maintenance and recovery, run at a similar time of day, you can even plan how far and what route. Humans, especially runners thrive on routine. Ultimately, listen to your body and stress levels to guide you. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone you trust.

4) Revisit Your ‘Why’

For me personally, I just love to run. I am hoping this situation helps us to remember that we don’t need to have a bib on to still love running. While Instagram appears to be a fairly positive space currently, we see several different reactions of both big-name athletes and fellow running community members.

Some are saying that they will continue to drop the hammer, others saying that they are going back to basics. Whenever you do, lace up, do it safely, respectfully, and reflect on why you do this. Although many of us love racing and feel lost if we don’t have anything on the calendar, if we allow it, we can turn this into one of the most rewarding seasons in our running.

5) Practice Mindfulness

Continually check in and be aware of how you’re feeling. Are your thoughts grounded in the now, or are they focused on the uncontrollable future? Spend some time outdoors (alone or in very small groups) or focus on your breath to ground you. Remember our thoughts are just thoughts.

6) Remember The Bigger Picture

This is a situation that goes way beyond running, and we will come out of this stronger, more resilient, and resourceful than we ever thought. So, hang out, practice good hygiene, practice critical thinking when making decisions, and use the space you have. We’re all in this together and when the races return to us the energy will be epic!

These times are uncertain for all of us and are unprecedented to say the least. The best we can do is keep moving forward while taking care of ourselves and those around us. Try to implement some of the things above, but remember that while running is a thing, it truly isn’t everything.

Stay safe, stay smart, and as always– believe in your run.

Those of you with specific questions or concerns are welcome to reach out to me at adrienne@langelierspc.com or on the web at www.langelierspc.com. For COVID-19 info, follow along with the CDC guidelines at www.cdc.org.

 

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