By Whitney Waters

For the Love of Running

“What are you training for?” This is probably one of the most common questions I hear in the running community. And for good reason: it’s exciting to talk about upcoming races, goals, and training plans with other runners. Racing is a great motivational tactic—it keeps us accountable for long runs and tough workouts. But what happens when all the races get canceled? How do you stay motivated to run when there’s nothing to train for? 

Covid-19 has changed the landscape of our daily lives, and racing and running are no exception. Most spring and summer races this year have been canceled or postponed, and the race horizon beyond that remains uncertain. Even though your spring or summer half marathon has been canceled, that does not mean running is canceled. 

During this stressful time, I have found comfort in running for the sake of running. I’m a graduate student and teacher, and all of my classes have been moved online for the rest of the semester, leaving me staring into a computer screen for hours a day. Running is my chance to get outside, move my body, and enjoy the sunshine (or the clouds or rain), and that has not changed. Most importantly, running is my stress relief. Now, more than ever, running is important for our mental and physical health. So, if you’re struggling with motivation due to an empty race calendar or general upheaval of your daily routine, what can you do to get back at it?

Now is the perfect time to explore new areas of your neighborhood, listen to your favorite podcast, playlist, or audiobook, or just zone out and run. It can be fast or slow, short or long, but getting out the door for a run can make such a difference. Here are some tips to keep you running, healthy, and motivated while shaking up your training routine: 

Explore

Though many trails remain closed, you can still do some urban exploration within your own neighborhood or town. Change up your route a little. Run down a new street or in a new neighborhood. Plan a fun new route on a route planning app. Just make sure to stay safe and tell someone where you’re going. 

Listen to music or a good podcast

If you like to listen to something while running, now is the time to add some variety. Make a new playlist. Discover a new podcast. Maybe even listen to an audiobook. This can be a great way to learn a little something while moving your body. There are some great running podcasts out there for all the running nerds. Here are a few I enjoy: Runner’s Connect Run to the Top (featuring local Asheville runner Claire Bartholic), Ten Junk Miles, No Meat Athlete.

Ditch the watch

I know, easier said than done. I wear my Garmin all day every day. It’s practically a part of me. But there’s something freeing about running watchless. You have nothing to tell you how fast or far you’re going. Running without a watch allows you to get a sense of effort and feel, to know how hard you’re going without your watch telling you. Being able to judge effort will be beneficial when you do get back to racing. 

Run with your favorite four-legged friend

Social distancing guidelines discourage running with your usual training partner or group of friends. However, if you have a dog who loves to run, now is the perfect time to enjoy some miles with them. Dogs can be the best of running buddies—they don’t care how fast or slow you go. They’re happy just to be running. Take a tip from them!

Try a scavenger hunt or relay with friends 

I’ve seen a few of these on social media lately. Some groups run five miles six times over 24 hours. A few tenacious locals ran ten, 10 mile loops around their neighborhood. But you don’t have to go that big. Pick any distance goal and conquer it with the combined effort of a few friends. This can give you a race-like goal while still staying safe.

Scavenger hunts are another great idea to add a little motivation and fun to a casual run. You can make your own photo scavenger hunt by selecting some landmarks—a cool mural in River Arts, a business downtown, a local sculpture—and mapping out a run to those places. This is another great opportunity to discover some hidden gems in your own community that you otherwise might not notice. 

Our current global health crisis has impacted us all in different ways. The shape of our daily lives has changed for the foreseeable future. You might be laid off or working overtime. You’ve probably had a race or two canceled or postponed. Racing will be there when it’s there, but running hasn’t been canceled. Now is the perfect opportunity to rediscover your love of running and run for the sake of running.