Ralph Waldo Emerson begins his famous essay Nature with an exhortation to get outside: “To go into solitude, one needs to retire as much from the chamber as from society.”
As a runner trying to stay healthy in the midst of our public health crisis, I love these words. Get outside. Get away from your daily life. Get away from other people. Turns out I’m not alone.
According to Forbes magazine, sales of running shoes have skyrocketed nationally during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Sharon Bart, the long-time owner of The Running Shop on North Campbell, agrees. “We’ve seen an uptick in new customers buying comfortable running shoes, not just for running but for walking, too.”
With gyms, yoga studios, and spin studios all seeing various levels of closure, running has become the go-to exercise for many. Running and its close cousins walking and hiking are sports well suited for going it alone. No need for a gym, no need for a team. All you need is some basic equipment.
As Bart says, “A good running shoe can determine whether a new runner enjoys the activity or not.”
Basic equipment includes the following:
• Running shoes that fit
• Comfortable shorts and T-shirt
• Running socks to wick moisture away from the foot
• Well-fitting sports bra (for females)
• Face covering
• Running water bottles
Recommended additions include:
• Running watch or wearable technology to track distance, location, heart rate and more
• Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
• Tights and lightweight jackets for cold weather
• Safety vest
• Mace or some form of “bear spray” to ward off four- or two-legged attackers
• Fanny-pack or CamelBak for phone, ID, water and the like.
START A ROUTINE
Solo runners can use these tips to help stick with a new exercise routine:
Run slowly enough that you can talk comfortably. I call it “Brady Bunch pace.” If you can comfortably sing the old TV show theme song without having to catch your breath, you’re going at the right pace. If you can’t sing, you’re going too fast.
Give yourself time to warm-up. Walk for 5-10 minutes, then try running (or jogging) at Brady Bunch pace for a minute or two, then walk a bit, then run Brady Bunch pace again. Do this for a total of 15-30 minutes.
Certified running coach Tia Accetta says, “Set a weekly goal. Minutes are easy to keep track of, so make it something you can accomplish and build on. For example, make a plan to run or walk around your block for 10 minutes, once a day for a week. Then next week add 5 minutes, or another block.”
Give yourself the freedom to skip a day. I like to say that no workout matters — patterns do. So if you need to miss exercise for any reason, don’t feel bad about yourself.
Give yourself a few weeks to get into a pattern. It takes 3-4 weeks to adopt a new habit, and it takes 3-4 weeks for physical gains to take hold, so don’t give up too easily. Do a little bit at a time, but make sure to do that little bit at least a few times a week.
Sign up for a Virtual Race to give yourself a goal. Many virtual races also have a local charity element, so you can have a goal and do good for your local community, too.
SAFETY TIPS WHEN RUNNING ALONE
Run facing traffic, follow traffic laws and don’t dash across red lights
Wear white or bright colors
Bring or wear an ID with vital information
Avoid running with headphones. Although listening to music may make you happier, headphones can diminish your senses. If you must, use only one earbud or buy the type that allows you to hear your surroundings.
Let someone know your route and bring a phone
Head to safety if under threat — ask for help, call 911.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
Conventional running theory relies on what is often called “hard-easy” — where you do a bout of running followed by a bout of rest. On a weekly basis, this means you can run on Monday, take Tuesday off, run on Wednesday, take Thursday off, and so on. The nice thing about hard-easy is that it lets you off the hook — you always can take a day off when you want.
Runners like to do a workout that uses hard-easy theory — and they call it by the Swedish term fartlek, which means speed play. When you do a fartlek run, you go fast then go slow, repeating fast and slow segments until you want to stop.
What’s great is that you don’t need to care how fast you go — or how far you go. You can walk, sprint, jog — it’s your life, so do what you want.
You can do it by location: run to that cactus, walk to that rock, then run to that coyote (as long as it’s a sculpture!), then jog to that rock over there, and so on. If you’re not in shape, you can walk, then jog, then take a nap. The point is, fartlek is playing with speed, so it’s all good.
RUNNING IN A PANDEMIC
Running in the midst of a pandemic raises a number of new challenges. Although immunologists generally agree that gentle and consistent exercise is good for overall health, be sure to eat well and sleep well so that your body recovers from the exercising efforts.
If you’re going to start a running or exercise program during this national public health crisis, be sure to follow the medical advice from the CDC and our local public health advisories. Consider following basic COVID-19 safety tips:
Don’t exercise if you are experiencing any of the standard coronavirus symptoms, such as sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, high fever, and the like.
Wear a comfortable neck gaiter or Buff and pull it up when passing or being passed by others.
Stay 6-10 feet apart from others going a similar pace.
Don’t share water bottles or food with others.
Wash your hands after using a public restroom and then again when you get home.
Don’t spit or “nose rocket” in public — bring along tissues or a good old-fashioned hanky if you need to get rid of some mucus.
Even though running is an easy solo sport, you can find others who share your passion. Lauren Erdelyi, the board president of local non-profit running club the Southern Arizona Roadrunners, offers her club as a way to get in touch with local running groups. “At Azroadrunners.org, you can find workout groups, get information about community events, and stay informed for virtual and other events. Also, many groups have social media and you can post your runs, tag the groups and be a part of the virtual community.”
WHERE TO RUN
Sabino Canyon: with a day or annual pass, you have access to paved surfaces and rocky trails, but there is an easier flat dirt road heading east from the parking lot.
Udall Park: With both paved paths and dirt trails, Udall Park allows beginning runners to experiment on different terrains. Across the street is Fleet Feet, another local specialty store that will provide the new runner with excellent advice.
Saguaro National Park: with a day or annual pass, you can run any portion of the hilly paved loop and desert trails. For those new to running, you can head counter-clockwise out to the picnic grounds and back, for a beautiful three-mile loop.
The Chuck Huckelberry Loop: With more than 110 miles of paved multi-use pathways, The Loop provides any number of opportunities. Many Tucsonans know that the Rillito River from Craycroft all the way to Oracle is a beautiful stretch, but there are other hidden gems.
• On the east side of Tucson, the Loop’s path near Davis-Monthan at Valencia near Old Vail Road provides cactusstudded scenery adjacent to the Fantasy Island mountain bike trails.
• Also on the south side of town, there’s a nice two-mile loop around the Pima County Wetlands at Sam Lena Park, near Kino Sports Complex. On the west side of town, the Santa Cruz Riverpath section both north and south from the Mercado near downtown provides shade trees and views of “A” Mountain and the Tucson Mountains.
• Heading north you can pick up The Loop at Cañada del Oro Riverfront Park in Oro Valley, with a scenic route, heading both north and south.
• In Central Tucson, the paved multi-use paths of Reid Park are well lit and therefore provide a measure of comfort for exercising in the dark.
If you don’t want to venture far from home, Erdelyi recommends that you explore your neighborhood: “Not only will you get more comfortable with your surroundings, but you may even meet some more of your neighbors. This can help to keep you connected to people in a time when human contact is limited, but still necessary.”
In 2020, Tucson and Pima County was named a Runner-Friendly Community by the Road Runners Club of America, one of the few places in the nation to be awarded such a prestigious designation.
While the rest of the country is facing a difficult winter, we’ve got a few months of beautiful outdoor weather in front of us. To keep yourself healthy, get outside, mask up and get moving!
Randy Accetta, Ph.D., teaches at the University of Arizona’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship and is the founder of Run Tucson, producer of many Tucson running events. For any running or fitness questions, he can be reached at email@example.com.