In this era of COVID-19 with its social distancing, race cancellations and banning of outdoor running, I’ve been so proud and inspired to see how runners around the world have tried to adapt to these new circumstances. Many are participating in virtual strength and aerobics sessions, some have registered for virtual races, others have started online pilates and yoga classes and those without treadmills have been running circles in their yards. I’ve never doubted how resilient, determined and motivated runners are, but our current situation has really exemplified this. In this post though, I don’t want to talk about that. Rather I want to grab a box of tissues and tell you just how much I MISS running outdoors! I also asked some of my running friends to share their thoughts and it was amazing to see how similar our responses were.
Take Me Back To The Road Where I Belong!
1/ Friends: One of the best things about running for me are the friendships and many of those I asked said the same. I’ve reconnected with old friends who I spend more time with because we run together. I’ve made new friends because we share a love for running. Gape says, “I miss running with the Gaborone Striders and the camaraderie during the runs and afterwards”. Running friends can be relied on to run with you when you need some extra motivation and as Gape says they “spur us on to challenge ourselves a bit more”. Luzibo adds “they encourage us even when the body screams ‘I’ve had it!'” They know how to be supportive and what to say when you are injured or didn’t get the PB you wanted. They can listen to you harp on about running for an inordinate amount of time. And who else can you discuss with whether you pooed or not that morning? We passionately lift each other up when we are down and we enthusiastically celebrate each one of our achievements, big and small.
2/ Deep Conversations: There is something about being on a run, particularly a long one, that allows you to unleash those thoughts that are often pushed to the back of your mind. There’s a safety and security found in pounding the pavement that allows you to talk honestly about your insecurities or challenges. You can even veer onto more contentious matters and express different political or social views without feeling judged or attacked. Before I started running, I never imagined all the powerful and thought-provoking conversations I would have on the run. Elisa says quite poignantly that she misses “the joy of our banter at the start of the run and the soul-nourishing conversations during and after the run. I miss our perfect coffee dates.”
3/ Freedom: This was a common theme and it was the first thing expressed by many of the men I asked! Ditiro says “I miss the freedom of just being able to open the gate and run”; Leruo says, “It’s the freedom that I miss about running outside… you can have a long or short run, go for a fast time or take it easy… all that is up to you”; both Gape and Ticha express missing the freedom of choice and varying their routes with Ticha noting, “When running sometimes I choose a route when I leave the house and mid-run change my mind and switch.”; Elisa says “I miss walking out the door to the cool air of the morning, knowing I will soon be soaking in the feeling of being free”. In Naema’s words, “It’s just you and the road…” To be honest, whenever I discussed my love for running in the past, freedom was not the first thing that cropped up. But I guess finding ourselves in this situation has shone light on the privilege we have in running outside.
4/ Exploring New Places: Running has taken me to so many beautiful places, the Drakensberg Mountains, the Magaliesburg Range, Soweto, Kanye to name a few. But just being able to explore my city has been an amazing experience. I love how much I’ve gotten to see on the run. I love that I know all the distances between different places and that all you have to tell me is that you want to do a 24km run and I’ll recommend the perfect route. Ticha also talks about this and says, “It’s great to run different routes and get to see new locations when you’re running and not driving – places you’ve been through but see differently when running.”
5/ Seeing Normal: This wasn’t originally on my list until Ticha mentioned it, “I enjoy seeing people going about their daily lives. Guys chatting up girls, children playing, people arguing. It’s sometimes entertaining and sometimes sad but nice to see normal”. And when he said this, it immediately resonated with me. When I’m on my solo runs in particular, I’m so observant of what’s around me. I once did a run behind a runner carrying a maize cob. He was fully kitted in the latest running gear and I remember thinking, did he leave home with this maize cob? Or did he get hungry on the run and buy it from the stalls by the side of the road? But yes, I miss seeing life happen around me, not in front of a screen, but all around us. And Gape cheekily adds, “I miss non-runners looking at us like we are crazy as they pass in their cars at 5am.”
6/ Training With A Specific Focus: I’m not going to lie. I love training. I love having a goal race to work towards. I love printing off the plan and sticking it up on my fridge door and then cancelling each run as I do it. I loved training for my marathon. I loved seeing what each week looked like. I loved gasping in horror at the long run distance and then having the biggest smile when I achieved it. Elisa agrees, “I miss working towards and getting closer to my many running goals.” We still have goals, for example, I’m doing a 40 day running streak with 4km as the minimum allowed per day, but it’s really not the same as having a solid training plan in place.
7/ The Bling! Luzibo and I both had such similar thoughts on this one with Luzibo calling the jewellery “every girl’s dream, of course!” The nervousness the day before the race mixed with a sense of anticipation as you attach your bib to your outfit. Setting the alarm clock for 4am and momentarily questioning why you do this to yourself. Waking up in the morning, those butterflies still there. Then getting to the race and feeling the buzz of excitement. Hugging your friends and hi-fiving some strangers. Grumbling when the race doesn’t start on time and then being mid-chat when the gun does go off. Running, pacing yourself, passing the marshals telling you you’re almost done when you know you still have a fair bit to go. Feeling like giving up but then digging deep. Seeing the Finish Line. Running through it. Stopping your watch as someone puts a medal over your head. The selfies (and as Luzibo puts it “that butt-kick high jump photo”!) the post-race brunches, the social media posts, and then a special one for #MedalMonday.
8/ How Running Makes Me Feel: There are some runs that make you feel powerful, strong and invincible. For me those runs usually start with some nervousness, for example, when I’m going to try a longer distance or there is a specific pace I have to meet or a hill I have to try out. Usually, once done, those are the ones that leave me the most satisfied. They are the ones where I realise I’m far stronger than I ever thought possible. They remind me why I do this. Ditiro adds that he misses that feeling you get when you find your perfect rhythm, “You’ve shaken off the tired juices from the first couple of kays, and your body has found itself, found its purpose on the road”. Tshepi also talks about that sense of satisfaction you get when running and that “running outside is beyond just the mileage”. Then there are those runs that don’t go so well and leave you disappointed. But we later realise those runs were our greatest teachers.
9/ Clarity Of Thought: I know there are many runners who thrive on the treadmill and there are many treadmill workouts that can make you a stronger runner. I’m not disputing the power of training on a treadmill. But when I’m on the treadmill my sole focus is getting the run over and done with. It feels mechanical as I count down the kilometres. I’ve found music helps but even then it’s mechanical, if I play one and a half songs, I’ll be done with this kilometre. The other day I watched a serial killer documentary and the sheer horror of it took my mind off the run but I said to Ditiro, “Surely, the grotesque killings by evil individuals shouldn’t be what it takes to get through a treadmill run?!” When I’m alone on the road, I’m able to open and unpackage contents in different compartments of my mind. Sometimes it’s as mundane as a grocery shopping list. But a lot of the time I’m able to think clearly about things I’m struggling with. I can think without crying or getting upset. I’m able to work through things without becoming trapped in the emotion of it. I find peace on the road. More than anything, that’s what I miss.
Well, my tissue box is now empty! A huge THANK YOU to all my friends who shared their thoughts with me. I’m so looking forward to running outdoors although I’m not too sure when that will be. But until then, let’s continue to stay at home, keep fit and active, keep encouraging each other virtually and keep showing up every single day! Let us never forget how resilient we are. I can’t remember where I saw this but someone said we should pretend we are in the middle of a race, at that critical point when we are starting to give up hope, but that’s when we dig deep, that’s when we find the fight in us we never knew existed, and that’s how we finish this race.
For those trapped indoors, what do you miss about outdoor running? What are you most looking forward to when you get out? Where will your first run be on the outside?
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, Running on Happy and Organic Runner Mum! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners on the link-up. Such great inspirational posts from around the world.