5 Frontline Healthcare Workers on How Running Helps Them Cope

Emily Abbate
by Emily Abbate
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5 Frontline Healthcare Workers on How Running Helps Them Cope

While we’ve been struggling with the new normal of this pandemic and sheltering in place, the hardship we see is nothing compared to what the men and women on the front lines, working in hospitals and emergency care facilities, see. We caught up with five healthcare workers who are working directly with coronavirus patients to hear about how running is helping them get through this time:

What I love about running: “I love the feeling of endorphin release after a long day or starting my day off with a run to set a good tone for what’s to follow. I love the variability that running has to offer, the ability to jog when I feel tired and sprint when I feel motivated. I also love to set goals for myself in terms of races, PRs and to train hard to accomplish them.”
Current running goals: “In light of COVID, the upcoming race I’d signed up for was canceled. Therefore, instead of training for a race, I’ve been using running as a means of clearing my mind and keeping my body strong. My current goals have been 4–5 days a week of running, runs ranging 3–7 miles, and working on my speed (attempting to consistently nail a 7:40/mile pace).”
Lesson I’ve learned: “The most important lessons running has taught me in light of caring for both adult and pediatric patients with COVID is to never take my health, family or friends for granted and to continue to care for my body. Seeing so much sadness and death at work has allowed me to take a step back and find joy in the little things outside of work, such as the beauty of running in Central Park or around Randall’s Island and spending time with my husband during after-work runs.”
Best advice to new runners: “Start small, set goals, sign up for races, find running partners, and always remember to keep the joy in your running.”

What is it you love about running? “The post-run feeling of ‘I can accomplish anything!’ I love the way running makes me feel both physically and mentally. There’s nothing that a good run can’t overcome.”
What are your current running goals? “I was training for a personal record at the New York City Half-Marathon before it got canceled. In the meantime, I’m just running for fun, to move, for physical activity, and to cope with stress/anxiety during the pandemic.”
Lessons running offers me: “Running teaches me to take one step at a time, one hill at a time. There are times (especially right now) where things feel completely out of control and insurmountable and just saying “OK, I’m going to just take one step forward and then another and then another.” Running is sometimes really hard. So is life … but we can do hard things.”
Best advice to new runners? “Get out there and move. Don’t get hung up on pace, whether you have the right sneakers and clothing, how long you are running. Put one foot in front of the other. No matter how long you run for and no matter your pace, you are a runner.”

What is it you love about running? “There are so many aspects of running I love. Given my profession, I am certainly an advocate for mental health and emotional well-being. I have always viewed running as my therapy. In addition to the physical benefits, it serves as an outlet to temporarily escape from the world and be present in the moment focusing on my run. Other times it becomes the place I can go to process my emotions and work through challenges I am facing. I also love and value the feeling of accomplishment running provides. I can recall so many races, and even training runs or relaxed runs that took a little pushing to get started, where I finished and said to myself ‘I am proud.’ We don’t often tell our own selves we are proud (at least I don’t always), but when it comes to running I tend to give myself that praise. The constant challenge and ongoing ability to generate new goals keeps me motivated and excited.”
What are your current running goals? “My running goals have shifted dramatically over the past few weeks as has been the same for many runners. I was supposed to run the Tokyo Marathon in March, so I’ve adjusted my plans for spring marathons next year. There remains a lot of uncertainty about the status of races, but I have accepted that whatever race I run and when I run it is not something I can plan for at this time. I have chosen to use this time to take a much-needed break from any heavy running and allow my body the rest it needs — time for all those nagging long-term injuries to heal. Running right now is really about self-care. It’s about the therapy. It’s about moving my body, getting outside and doing something I love.”
Lessons running offers me: “I am strong and have a great ability to work through and overcome adversity. There is no denying the intensity of the current situation and the emotional toll it is taking on all of our lives. I can think back to those moments during marathons where I felt depleted and became anxious about the road ahead of me, but I always found a way. We are in the tough, depleted phase now, but just because it is hard doesn’t mean we can’t work through it.”
Best advice to new runners:Come up with a realistic and achievable goal to work toward. Goals keep you focused and motivated and they are also a gauge for the progress you are making. A goal doesn’t need to be running or completing a race. Running for a certain number of minutes straight and developing a plan to get there is a perfect starting point.”

What is it you love about running? “I love running because it is my daily escape, and it is often the physical and mental challenge that I need to reset. Running has shown me sunrises and sunsets that I never could have seen. Running can make me forget the disappointment of a bad day and enhance the joy of a good day. When my body is charged, my run can release energy and be an outlet for wandering thoughts. When I’m exhausted, the run somehow finds a way to invigorate. Through running I met my husband, and we’ve explored more on two feet than most could imagine. Some of our best dates have included adventurous runs.”
What are your current running goals? “My long-term goal is to run a sub-2:45:00 marathon to qualify for the Olympic trials. In the meantime, stay injury-free and cherish the new challenge of pushing my baby girl through all of my favorite trails.”
Lessons running offers me right now: “Running reshapes my attitude and perspective for the day which translates into all aspects of my life. It allows me to embrace the spilled milk, be extra tender with a sick patient or eagerly work longer than anticipated. Ironman training and racing has also taught me that I can accomplish anything if the mind and body are working together. My many running injuries have taught me lessons that help me relate to my patients and provide more empathetic care.”
Best advice to new runners? “Don’t look at your watch, your pace or even the time. Don’t look at the temperature, the wind or the exact inclines. Get lost in the run. And then do it again the next day. And of course, as a physician, I have to advise that you prioritize a home rehab and recovery routine to keep the small muscles of the body engaged and strong. It will make you feel stronger, run faster and be less prone to overuse injuries.”

What is it you love about running? “I love that no matter what I’m going through, lacing up my shoes and going for a run always helps. I like to set new goals for myself and I like inviting people new to running and watching them grow. It’s been my catharsis throughout all of the stress of COVID-19.”
What are your current running goals? “Right now, everything is so up in the air that I don’t have a set goal for my fall running. Staying consistent in finding joy in running and putting one foot in front of the other is my main goal now. I am also doing a virtual half-marathon with a couple of other frontline workers, one is new to distance running, so getting him through that is on my list.”
Lessons running offers me right now: “Running has taught me to adapt to different conditions quickly, be comfortable on my own and to listen to my body. All of these traits are so important, not only during a pandemic but any day in an ER.”
Best advice to new runners? “Keep going. Even when it sucks. Your progress might be slow, and it won’t be linear, but if you keep at it you’ll look back in a year and be shocked at your growth. And of course, try and have some fun along the way.”

About the Author

Emily Abbate
Emily Abbate

Emily has written for GQ, Self, Shape and Runner’s World (among others). As a certified personal trainer, run and spin coach, she’s often tackling long runs or lifting heavy things. In addition to that, she’s working on Hurdle, a podcast that talks to badass humans and entrepreneurs who got through a tough time —a hurdle of sorts— by leaning into wellness.


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