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Running in the Era of Social Distancing: Starting Your Running Journey


By Erica Gminski, RRCA Coaching & Youth Program Manager

bigstock-Sportswoman-Running-At-Daytime-337346398Running is a unique sport - a runner may venture out for a solo run around the neighborhood or the track, meet up with a running group or crew to run in a small group setting, or participate in events that bring together hundreds or even thousands of runners. The physical, social, and mental benefits of running are well documented: greater muscular and bone strength, increased cardiovascular endurance, reduced anxiety and depression, and improved mood, among other perks. Who wouldn’t want to join in the fun?

Unfortunately, in our current environment of quarantining and social distancing, sharing the sport of running with others in a group setting isn't possible, and most events are being cancelled or postponed or moving to virtual options in the coming months.

If you are looking to start running as a means to manage stress and get some exercise, the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) offers advice for getting started on your own!

What do I need?

Luckily, running requires little physical equipment. Begin by gathering the following:
  • Clothing. Ideally wear moisture-wicking fabrics. (Cotton is not one of those fabrics, but if that’s what you’ve got, rock that old concert t-shirt!)
  • A comfortable pair of athletic shoes. Start with whatever you have paired with a moisture-wicking sock. (Again, avoid cotton here, but work with what you have!)Check with your local run specialty store to see if they are open.As a small business, they need your support so consider getting into some new running gear.
  • Somewhere to run. Keeping appropriate social distancing in mind, if outdoor activity is still a possibility in your city or state, try walking out your door for a jaunt to the corner or a loop around the block. Check out the multi-use trail your community has invested in. Head to the park or the mountains to enjoy the trails.Check first to determine if they are open.Clear the pile of junk off the old treadmill in the basement!
  • A little knowledge.Understand the importance of not going out too hard, too far, too fast if you have not been running regularly in recent weeks or months.
  • Determination. Cross whatever “finish line” you set for yourself.

Set Goals

Whenever you start a new activity, be it running, basket weaving, closet organizing, homeschooling, or whatever you’re using to fill your time these days, keep the following goal-setting recommendations in mind:

  • Use your current fitness level as your starting point. If exercise isn’t a regular part of your routine, work your way up to moving your body a few days each week for 15-20 minutes at a time. If you’re used to hitting the gym or going for walks, your starting point will be a little further down the proverbial road. Follow the RRCA’s 10 Week Getting Started Plan
  • Make time for physical activity. If you find yourself working from home and getting used to a new routine, set an alarm on your phone. Add it to your calendar. Whatever you need to do to get out and move at regular intervals during your new schedule.
  • Start slow. Start short. This most likely means start out with a lot of walking and very little running. Walk around the block, around the neighborhood, or to the grocery store to restock. Get your body used to moving for longer periods of time.The more you walk with short bouts of running, the more your body will start to adapt to the exercise.Your goal right now should be to increase movement without injuring yourself.
  • Make your goals specific to YOU, not your partner, your neighbor, or that elite runner you saw on Instagram. It might be running a specific distance or length of time without stopping. It might be running a certain number of days each week.

Keep Your Momentum

Endurance and speed come with time and effort. Find joy in what you’re doing, keep it fun, and focus on the long game. Remember that old “marathon vs. sprint analogy?” It obviously applies to running!
  • Pick up the pace. Incorporate running into your walks. Run from here to the next driveway (or lamppost, or tree, or whatever landmark you see out there), walk some more, then run again. Run more and walk less as the weeks go by. Running legend Jeff Galloway popularized the run-walk-run method. Check out his books and website for more information.
  • Understand Muscle Soreness.When you first start running you may experience some muscle soreness. Don’t worry, this normal, and you may notice more on the second day compared to the first day. This is referred to as DOMS or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. Do not let it discourage you or keep you from continued movement. But do take a recovery day as needed to reduce the chance of injury.
  • Challenge yourself and others. Even if you can’t run alongside other people, you can still experience the social benefits of running.
  • Check out apps like Strava, a social network for endurance sports. Use a mapping tool like Map My Run to find local running routes or create your own. If you’ve got a GPS-enabled watch (Apple, Android, or endurance-specific watches from Garmin, Suunto, Coros, Polar, and others) they’ll have built-in training and social features. These apps and others can track your activities, too, recording distance, time, pace, route, and other metrics.
  • Have a treadmill? Platforms like Zwift and device-specific services like Peloton Tread and NordicTrack’s iFit let you virtually run all over the world, participate in training sessions, and track your progress.
  • Switch it up. Running is great, but cycling and weight lifting and Zumba-ing are awesome, too. Many gyms and fitness studios are offering free online content, so try a new cross training workout in your living room!Focus on flexibility and core strength, which is an important aspect of injury prevention for runners.
  • Rest. Include running-free days in your fitness schedule. Get quality sleep. Acquaint yourself with the yoga mat collecting dust in the corner and follow a running-specific stretch video online. Listen to your body – if you’re not up for running today, try again tomorrow!

Stay safe.Now for the serious stuff:

  • Please use common sense when out in public spaces. DO NOT spit or “snot rocket/farmer blow” when walking or running in public places.
  • Follow the CDC’s guidelines for isolation and social distancing, even while running down the sidewalk or on your multi-use trail. It’s for the greater good.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when you’re out and about. If you can’t run/walk without your favorite playlist or podcast, use bone-conduction headphones or leave one earbud out. Consider sticking closer to home.
  • Carry your phone and identification with you. Consider a RoadID.
  • Tell someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. This could be your family, roommate, or even a friend on social media.
  • Wear reflective and light-up gear in low-light conditions – so you can see where you’re going, and so others can see you.
  • If sidewalks are available in your community, use them. Most communities have ordinances requiring the use of sidewalks by pedestrians when they are available. Do not create unsafe driving situations for emergency vehicles by running down the middle of a road.The last thing the medical community needs right now is to treat avoidable accidents and injuries.

Moving Forward

Industries of all types are suffering in these uncertain times. The running industry supports runners of all ages, abilities, and experience levels through coaching, retail, service, events, and other avenues. Even if we can’t run races or hang out at the local running store, we can support these professionals, businesses, and organizations so they’re around in the future.
  • Use’s Find a Coach tool. Connect with a certified adult distance running coach in your area. Many offer online coaching services, and cater to new runners!
  • Reach out to your local run specialty retail store. They’re the experts on all things running, from shoes and apparel to accessories, equipment (think GPS watches and recovery items like foam rollers), nutritionals, and the best places to run. Even if they’re temporarily closed to customers, they may answer your questions on the phone, via email, or online chat; offer a virtual fit process; or provide curbside pickup or delivery for those new shoes. Purchase gift cards for future use!
  • Find a local running club using’s Find a Club tool. Their fun runs, races, group training programs, and social events may be on hold for the time being, but you can create valuable virtual connections with other members in the meantime.
  • Research upcoming races using's Find an Event tool. Most spring events are cancelled.  In fact, be very leery about registering for a race collecting funds that is schedule between March through May. It is still too soon to determine if events will be allowed to proceed within that time frame. Use this time to train for a late summer or fall 5k (or 10k, or half marathon, or longer). The majority of community races are put on by volunteers or small businesses, consider supporting them so they can exist down the road.

We’d love to hear about your running journey. Follow us on social media, send us your photos and updates, and let us know how it goes!

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