This article was originally written and published as part of my work supporting the employees of the Cambridge Health Alliance
Every weekend my husband and I lace up our shoes, pack the kids in a double stroller and head out the door for a long run. The distance varies depending on the goals we’re working towards. Currently our eyes are on the virtual Boston marathon (for CHA) so the distance is getting up there... along with the mental effort.
This weekend my husband mapped a 15 miler in an area of Massachusetts we’ve never been. I looked at the map and signed off on the route with a pretty good general understanding of where we were going. I have never been more wrong. And the “not knowing” was agonizing.
You see, one trick I’ve learned in my years of endurance training is to “chunk” long runs. In other words, you break down the run into manageable sections and you just focus on getting to the next milestone. Because if you focus on how far you have to go in total and/or what’s left to do, it feels impossible.
But running in a place you’ve never been without a map in front of you means that you can’t break it up. You know is how far you’re going, but it’s impossible to know the details of what challenges await and how to pace and prepare yourself. Rest assured I did what any rational human would do - I got angry.
My catastrophic thinking grew with every step. Every hill was "the worst" and "would never end." Every down hill was a reminder we'd go up soon. All I could do was fear how much farther we had to go.
What it means for COVID...
It reminded me of the conversations about living and working in this COVID world. We are all pretty experienced in our role and skills. Just like I know how to run, you know how to administer, manage programs and people, care for patients, support providers, deal with financials, and feed patients (to name a few). But COVID changed the game. While we signed up to play soccer, this disease decided to put us in a road race. We still have the skills to do the work, but how, where, and when we do it has changed. On top of that, there’s no map, no distance markers, and we don’t know if we need road or trail shoes. This makes it irritatingly impossible to put milestones on the experience. We’re left frustrated, angry, and just plain tired.
Many people started the pandemic at the pace of a 5k. We went all out without much thought about how to pace, fuel, and rest to go the distance. Our milestone was the end of the Massachusetts surge. And that’s human nature - we’re wired to go fast rather than go long. It’s a bit “easier” physically and emotionally to grit your teeth and power through than to feel discomfort for a long period of time.
That may be one reason why the approach of the fall season has been tough. While we "knew" COVID wouldn’t be gone, we still hoped that as we turned the corner into fall it would be different. But our race of unknown distance and obstacles continues.
But here’s what we DO know - it will end. Just like a long run, it has a beginning, an end, and a whole lot in the middle. And while we don’t know how much pain we’ll feel along the way, we know we can endure if we invest in ourselves by getting rest, cheering each other on, and fueling ourselves with proper fuel and human connection.
My run was not complete misery. Once I reminded myself this experience wasn’t forever, I made a conscious choice that I could 1.) resist every step, 2.) quit entirely and spend the day upset, OR 3.) embrace the experience for whatever it was. I chose to find joy. And really, running with my family is what I love.
Stay nourished friends!
DISCLAIMER: The information presented here is meant to be for general education. If you want individual guidance to reach your unique health goals, please contact me or a local dietitian directly
Dietitian, personal trainer, mother, wife, runner, and triathlete staying healthy one bit and bite at a time