With social-distancing protocols in full force, group runs are temporarily a thing of the past, but, ironically, staying in touch with your running friends is more important than ever. It can feel stressful to spend your time outside running dodging other joggers and dog walkers, and trying to stay an acceptable distance from them, which is now at least six feet, but the more the better. Being outside may suddenly feel more isolating — and that’s bad for your health.
“Too much stress and too much cortisol can break down your immune system which puts you at risk,” says Dr. Jason Friedman, an emergency medicine physician, exercise physiologist, coach and ultrarunner. “Try to relax and manage stress as best you can.” Running can help, but unfortunately, being isolated from your friends can add to your stress and anxiety levels, and if you’re used to running with some buddies, suddenly switching to solo runs can be tough to handle. Here are some ways to stay connected when you can’t run side-by-side:
SET UP VIRTUAL CHALLENGES
Using an app like MapMyRun, find or make a local route and share it with your usual running group. Of course, you’ll run that route at different times, but simply knowing another friend is covering the same ground as you helps you feel a bit more connected — and perhaps spur you on to push the pace a little faster. For some bonus feelings of closeness, bring some sidewalk chalk on your route and write little inspirational messages to your crew and the community at large. (Only do this if it’s legal in your area.)
TRY VIDEO CHATS
If you usually do a Wednesday night workout with your friends, you may not be able to actually train together, but you can still have your post-workout stretch session or snack together virtually on Zoom, Slack or FaceTime. It may feel weird at first, so to ease the way, set up a series of questions or discussion prompts to get you started. Topics like “what was the hardest part of your workout tonight?” or “what interval felt the best?” can lead to better discussions. Try to avoid spending the entire chat bemoaning your lack of social interactions or comparing notes on the latest news. Try to use this as a time to talk about running, not just focusing on the stressful state of the world.
CREATE AN ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP
If you’re having trouble sticking to your training plan or struggling to not eat an entire box of cereal, asking friends to be accountability partners can be helpful. Research has shown an accountability partner is linked to eating better — even when the accountability partner is virtual. You can share your MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal logs with friends, allowing you to see, comment and like each other’s meals and workouts.
TRY VIRTUAL TRAINING
Right now, most personal trainers and yoga instructors are working remotely, so take advantage of that fact. Coordinate with a local gym or studio to host a private virtual ‘class’ for you and your run crew. Split the cost, or use this as a way to celebrate a birthday or other milestone by gifting it to your crew.
SHARE PODCASTS AND PLAYLISTS
Use apps like Overcast and Spotify to send favorite podcast episodes and create running playlists for your friends — some audio inspiration goes a long way. While we can’t run together, a killer playlist that adds motivation to a workout is a way to stay in touch without sending constant “how are you doing?” texts.
START A BOOK OR RECIPE CLUB
Sure, it might feel cheesy at the outset, but if you’re trying to stay close to your running friends, finding something other than running to do together at a time like this might help. Pick a great book about running that you’ve all been meaning to read, like “Let Your Mind Run,” by Deena Kastor, or grab an athlete-friendly cookbook like “Run Fast, Eat Slow,” by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky, and decide which recipes to test and try. Get creative: Host virtual cooking parties or decide to bake in bulk and drop portions off on your friends’ porches.