COVID-19 signs on fence at Smith College

Running in the Time of Coronavirus

This is truly a coronavirus post.  I started it over a year ago and haven’t gotten out of my lockdown-languishing state enough to finish it until (hopefully) now.  I will leave it as I started writing it for the most part and just round it out with some God-help-us-I-hope-near-end-of-Covid stuff.

I am so glad I started running five years ago so that going out to run is not yet another strange thing in this strange, strange time.  Getting outside this past year seems so normal and yet so abnormal.

I was visiting my daughter in Oakland, California, when the pandemic was made known to the population.  We hadn’t heard of it when I flew out in mid-February.  I was seated in the last row of the outward-bound plane, and I was very aware of each person going into and out of the plane’s bathrooms, unfortunately, because sitting there I couldn’t ignore it.  It was very clear when someone couldn’t possibly have washed their hands before leaving the bathroom – they just didn’t spend enough time in there to have done it – but this was completely due to the gross factor, and I squelched the too-nosy, too-in-your-face impulse I had to tell them to go back and wash their hands.  (No, I never would actually do that, just a fantasy.  I may be old and opinionated, but I don’t want to act that way. 😉 )  But I had no idea then that it might have been dangerous to the others on the plane.

While I was in California, the presence of the virus was announced.  Flying back, I was really aware of crazy behavior, like the airline employee who took each person’s phone in his hand to look at it and verify they were on the flight, then handed it back.  Incredulous, I switched to the alternate line where I could hold my own phone over the electronic reader.  But there was no way to avoid contact with the many people on the two flights I took home and in the  two different airports.  There was a shortage of masks for medical personnel, especially in those early days, and nobody was making them at home yet, so masks were nowhere to be found.  At that time it was all about hand washing and not touching your face.

I had some kind of respiratory thing a few days after I got back – who knows if it was COVID-19 with mild symptoms or just a cold.  But it made it so that it was three weeks after I got back before I headed out for a run, March 27 to be exact.  When I did go out, what struck me was that Smith Campus, a good part of my usual running route, was completely deserted and feeling really desolate.

COVID-19 signs on fence at Smith College
COVID-19 signs on fence at Smith College

How else has Covid changed my running? Pretty soon after my first run I started running wide arcs around people on paths and crossing the street if there were other people.  And doubling my Buff neck gaiter, pulling it up over my mouth and nose when getting within several feet of another person.  I’ve got a summer version now as well as the merino wool version I have had for years as part of my pre-COVID winter gear.  The summer version is polyester, a denser fabric, and so better as a mask substitute.

Most people give a wide berth and are wearing masks, although some make me feel like a crazy person for pulling up my Buff and running in an arc around them.  I find it quite strange that people don’t care whether they give the virus to others, perhaps killing them. But this is a nationwide problem, so I should not be surprised.  In Massachusetts we are lucky that most people are stringently adhering to mask-wearing and social distancing.

Being outside and having at least six feet distance removes the need for a mask, according to experts, but I mask up while running to make others more comfortable and in case, for some reason, I’m not able to keep six feet of distance.  Plus, there have been restrictions on runners and cyclists in France and perhaps other places.  I don’t want to add fuel to any argument that there should be restrictions here.  Add to that Smith’s masks-required-on-campus rule and it’s a no-brainer.

Another difference: I listen to books while I run and since the start of the pandemic I keep having reactions like, “He can’t get that close to her!”, overlaying the current weirdness on books written years and decades ago.  And no, I am absolutely not reading anything about pandemics or anything dystopian!  There’s enough of that in real life.

The pandemic has made running an out-of-house outing when most weeks I go nowhere, certainly nowhere more exciting than the grocery or drug store.  It is so much more important this year that I have been able to watch the seasons, especially in the beautiful and beautifully-maintained Smith Botanical Gardens.  (The gardener is usually the only person I see on campus.  I give him a wide berth as we wave to each other.  Maybe he likes seeing another human also?)

But the pandemic has also canceled the one race I do, the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage, removing the motivation to keep my rate at least not totally embarrassing.  And the malaise and stress has led to my having several long lapses in running, leading to a greatly reduced level of fitness that I am now figuring out how to recover from.  In addition, everyone’s advice for getting through the pandemic is to “be nice to yourself”.  This has led me to go only about 30-35 minutes, 4-5 times a week rather than 45 minutes 4 times a week and an hour once a week.

In fact, I was not being nice to myself.  I gained weight, lost all the euphoria from endorphins, no longer felt decades younger than my age, just went downhill.  Next post: how I’m fighting back and what I’ve learned about why 30-35 minutes of half-assed running does not keep you really healthy.  Damned Covid!  Fighting back is a lot of work!

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