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Runners’ Corner column: Running away from COVID-19

Tom Licciardello
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Plaquemine Post South

“You’re not going to believe this; I went for a run today!”

My neighbor, Andrew, lives in the house right behind mine, and we are separated by a fence tall enough for us to see each other eye to eye. It is the classic example of good fences make good neighbors. He’s a good guy with a nice family, and maintains his fitness by going to the gym. Well, like for many, the gym is closed, and the realization that if an alternative isn’t found, our “COVID snacking” will expand waistlines.

“You inspired me to run, and, guess what, I liked it!”

We are all searching for the silver lining to the restrictions placed on our lives that have so fundamentally changed our routines.

I count my blessings. I have my own business, and though we have strict social distancing rules - only one in the office at a time - I can do most of my work from home.

My wife, Lyn, and I are in the high-risk category due to age, but we are healthy and fit. I had a total knee replacement nearly a year ago, which means my running no longer makes me cry, and since I spend so much time at home I have found I can sneak in my run anytime during the day.

Though I run alone, I am never really alone. It has been wonderful to see so many fellow runners, and throngs of walkers out there. Though we respectfully wear masks and assure that we keep a safe distance from each other, the numbers of folks enjoying the outdoors is extraordinary.

For many of us who are in some way involved with the production of road races, the restrictions on large gatherings has meant cancellations, postponements or conversion to virtual events. How long this will last is anybody’s guess, and there is a real possibility that there will be permanent fundamental changes in the industry. Is there a silver lining?

I think the answer to that question is yes, and my neighbor may hold the key to the next revolution in running.

If we look at the statistics for the number of entries in road races, we find that the numbers are actually decreasing. The global participation in 2016 hit a peak at 9.1 million recorded results, while in 2018 that number was 7.9 million, a 13% decrease. Where did they go? Did folks stop exercising? No, they started seeking fun, group-based workouts. Zumba, Orange Theory, Anytime Fitness and others became the rage. Why just run a race when you could do a Tough Mudder?

Like my neighbor, these folks need to find a new way to stay fit, and for many walking isn’t enough. Runners know the joy of being outdoors can bring, even when the weather is less than ideal. If you are a walker, it’s a great time to give running a whirl if you haven’t yet. Here are a few basics to help you out:

Proper footwear: It’s probably already in your closet, but if not spring for a pair of running shoes, a.k.a. sneakers. Running is so much more fun with proper footwear, and getting a new pair from your local running store will add to the incentive to run.

No pressure: The old rules of running still make sense. You should run at a conversational pace. That means you should be able to carry on a conversation while you run. Out of breath? Walk for a bit, catch your breath and then run a bit more.

Be patient: In Chris McDougal’s book “Born to Run,” he suggests that we all have the natural ability to run. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like it right away. You may need five weeks of talking yourself into running before it becomes as routine as brushing your teeth.

Again, be patient: One of the biggest risks for new runners - and even for experienced runners - is over-enthusiasm. Again, the old rules of running I learned years ago make sense; each week increase the amount you run (minutes or miles) by no more than 10%.

Dress correctly: The new dress code suggests a mask or face buff. You don’t have to wear it through the entire run, but if you approach another pedestrian, cover up or cross the street. Don’t overdress. If you plan on running, you will generate a lot more heat than you think. At the start, you should always feel a bit under-dressed. The good news is that we are in mid-May, and the theory says it will get warmer.

If you like it, plan a goal: We all start off as joggers. Perhaps, it’s a walk to run regime to improve health or lose the COVID-19 waistline, but then we become engaged enough to think about entering a race. In the old days - you know, two months ago - it meant choosing a race and working up the courage to show up with all those experienced racers. Virtual races have solved that problem. There are many, and many more to come. There’s no pressure, run the distance and collect the medal. You’ll be amazed what it does for your self-esteem.

You look great: It’s amazing what regular exercise can do for your looks.

So, there you have it. My recommendations to out-race that nasty COVID-19 bulge. We may have been dealt a crazy crisis that has turned our normal lives upside down, but perhaps lacing up a pair of running shoes will open up a whole new world. The running world welcomes you with open arms, but with socially distancing protocol.

Tom Licciardello is a founding member of the Merrimack Valley Striders. Licciardello has participated in 35 Boston’s and 88 marathons altogether, and is a BAA Boston Marathon volunteer. He can be reached at tomlicc@gmail.com.