About 5 ½ years ago, my daughter noticed a small bump on the right side of my neck and told me I needed to go see a doctor about it. She is a bit of a worry wart about medical stuff, but she also happens to be very persistent, so I went.
I wasn’t overly concerned, so you can imagine my surprise when my doctor told me I had Stage 4 Head and Neck Cancer. Not knowing much about cancer at that point, I asked her some questions; in particular, I asked her what Stage 4 meant. I can pinpoint the point in time I realized I was in deep trouble to when she answered “Well, there isn’t a Stage 5”.
After a short 24 hour pity party, we started looking at potential treatment options and agreed on the most aggressive one to start in a week so that had time to put in a feeding tube, and do a boatload of testing to make sure I could survive the treatment.
After the preparation, I went through 4 rounds of chemotherapy (losing about 40 pounds and all my hair) and 7 straight weeks of radiation, broken up only by a 5 day period where I had to go on steroids to reduce the swelling in my face and on May 14, 2015 I had my last treatment.
And, I’m happy to say, I’ve not only been cancer free but I’m probably in better shape than I have been since my 20’s having completed a Sprint Triathlon and become very serious about my running, nutrition and overall health.
This pandemic reminds me of this period of my life, and I think there are many reasons to use this crazy time period to better ourselves and come out in a better place. So, I’ve committed to running every single day during the pandemic and have come up with 5 reasons how and why you can use running to get through this and come out stronger on the other side.
This pandemic has created tremendous areas of stress; Am I or someone I love going to get the COVID 19 virus? Has the economic impact affected my retirement funds? Will I have a job next week?
Not only that, it has changed how we live as we live with “shelter in place” and “social distancing”. Human beings are social animals, and this new living structure with reduced or even no in person social contact is, in itself, a stressor. Don’t lie, at some point in the last few weeks you’ve had some stress with those you live with in this confined environment.
Studies have proven that regular aerobic exercise, including running, will provide significant mental benefits that will help you get through this tough time, including:
- Decreases symptoms of depression
- Helps relieve anxiety
- Helps you sleep better
- Can improve your diet, by decreasing desire for unhealthy foods
I don’t know about you, but things just look better after I’ve finished my daily run and the negative aspects of the pandemic don’t seem as daunting.
Sense of Purpose
In many cases, this pandemic is causing people to lose a bit of their sense of purpose; maybe they’ve lost their job or have been furloughed; their children aren’t in school; their church or social activities have been greatly limited. Whatever the case, people do better when they have a sense of purpose.
While running cannot replace many of the things listed above, you can use it to supplant some of these purposeful things you’ve lost or have become more limited.
My sense of purpose is to run every day during the pandemic, and having that purpose provides me with something to look forward to and plan for; I have set up a weekly schedule of base runs, long runs and recovery runs and plan accordingly. Where will I run? What type run will I do? Am I using the walk run method? What is my nutrition and hydration plan?
I’m not suggesting you should plan to run every day, but have a plan and use that plan to give yourself a sense of purpose during these crazy times.
Help Your Immune System
Because of my cancer history, I am in what they call the “immunocompromised” class; in other words, I’m more susceptible to catching a virus as my immune system was compromised by the cancer treatment. In addition, I am 61 years old which puts me in a group more likely to catch the COVID 19 virus so I am extremely aware of my immune system.
Many studies indicate that exercising at a medium intensity level reduces our risk of infection over the long term. How does this happen? Light or moderate running boosts our body’s natural immune system by circulating protective cells through the body faster, to attack and eliminate bacteria, viruses and fungi.
While light or moderate running tends to improve our immune system, older studies seem to indicate that endurance training can actually suppress the immune system. However, in more recent studies it seems that rather than suppress the immune system the protective cells are actually moving to areas of the body most likely to attract bacteria, viruses and fungi such as the lungs.
Given the information available, it’s safe to say that maintain your running and even increasing your base miles smartly (no more than a 10% increase per week, and no more than 3 weeks of this level of increase without a “backing off” period) will help you strengthen your immune system over the long run.
Build Your Base Miles
I think most of us realize there won’t be any races for the foreseeable future given the “shelter in place” and “social distancing” rules and guidelines in place. So, training for a specific event is not something you should be doing now without knowing when regular racing will resume.
Thus, now is a perfect time for you to build your base miles. As mentioned, you should have a plan to do this and, based on personal experience, I would recommend the following. If you want to increase your base miles, do not increase by more than 10% per week and you should not increase your miles for more than 3 weeks without backing off during the 4th week. Below is an example of how I would recommend building miles over a 10 week period, using someone with a base mileage of 20 miles per week.
- Week 1 20 miles
- Week 2 22 miles
- Week 3 24 miles
- Week 5 5 miles
- Week 6 24 miles
- Week 7 5 miles
- Week 8 29 miles
- Week 9 32 miles
- Week 10 29 miles
If you are part of a running group, your group has probably stopped meeting during this time period; if you haven’t, you should be extra careful when you do meet. Certain rules, which may seem obvious, need to be applied like maintaining a 6 foot separation, using hand sanitizer before and after your run, not sharing food or drinks, etc.
However, if your group has suspended running together I would recommend putting together a group chat or a Facebook Group to share, provide motivation and maintain the social element of running.
My company FunRunBox has a private Facebook Group called FunRunBoxers, where subscribers share, motivate and socialize with one another remotely. During the pandemic, we are waiving the private element of this group and welcome anyone who wants to join.
Bottom line – use this timeframe to focus on your running, gaining many of the benefits described above and, most of all, stay safe!!
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Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.