'We have to trust that this is unfolding the way it's supposed to'
Plus: All-new virtual races, tips for sidewalk running during Coronavirus, and whether or not to wear a mask when you run outside.
“People think long-distance running is about speed, about getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. But really it’s about slowing down.” — Katie Arnold
On Monday, I had the chance to chat with someone who’s become a hero of mine over the past year, ever since I read her 2019 book, Running Home.
If you’re not familiar with her, Katie Arnold is a contributing editor for Outside, for which she writes frequently as well as other publications like The New York Times and Travel + Leisure magazine. She’s also one of the world’s best ultra runners, and the women’s champion in the 2018 Leadville 100 Trail Run.
Arnold became a runner at age 7 almost by accident, when her father staged a 10K race for her and her sister at their summer vacation home. Later, on assignment for Outside, she ran her first full marathon while tagging along with Dean Karnazes for an interview — even though she’d never run a distance longer than six miles before that day.
From the book’s first pages, we learn that Arnold’s father has been diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, on a visit she makes with her husband and two young daughters to visit her dad.
His passing stirs in her a desire to look anew at the feelings she’s carried around for her entire life about her father, questions she had all those years about why he left, and to search again for answers to them.
Grief and learning to accept loss — and dealing with both through running — is a thread that runs through the entire book. She begins running ultra races (anything longer than 26.2 miles) to help her process it all.
Before we spoke in our Zoom call on Monday, I was thinking our conversation would be for our member book club — and it still will be! — but we talked about so many things that bear on what we’re all going through right now, that I thought I couldn’t wait to share those with you.
When we opened up the interview, Arnold shared with me that she’d traveled for a race in February, when the signs that modern life as we know it might shut down were just starting to appear. As it turns out, it was a “weird harbinger” of emotions she’d been experiencing for a while:
“It's such a strange time because I was thinking about how like a couple of months ago, like I just had this urge that I wanted to just slow things down for a while and then you're just like, whoa, this is really like what has happened. And not that I wished this to happen, but it was like, it's just interesting how there's so many parts of it of that are things that I had been wanting.
I'd gone to a big race and in February I guess really right on the edge of when this started to shut things down and I just remember leaving there being like, people have traveled so far for this race. There's so many resources and so much output and then like it was a great race, but all the stuff you get.
And I just had this moment of being like, I can run 35 miles out my door. Should I travel to do it? And again, this was before all this blew up and then I just felt like, wow, that was like a weird harbinger of like, you know, those emotions that I was feeling in advance of this.”
Even though Running Home has been out for more than a year, long before anything related to COVID-19 was ever on our radar, in some ways it feels more relevant than ever:
“[The book] is weirdly relevant now I feel with the anxiety piece and that feeling of being in sort of paralysis of fear and not knowing what to do. And it's like how important is just to whatever your thing is. And I always say to people like, you could replace running with whatever your thing is and the book, the message is the thing.
Just make steady progress every day — you don't have to know where you're going or where it's going to take you. I keep coming back to that now, because this is like a state of collective not knowing and you can't see the future — and so [we have] to trust that it's okay not to see where we're going and not to have to put out these big plans.
I see people doing neighborhood FKTs (fastest known times) — all of that is super cool. But I have the opposite feeling; I just need to be in this state of unknown, and [know] that's okay because it's leading us somewhere — we just don't know where yet.
Caring for her father at the end of his life, which Arnold recounts so beautifully in Running Home, interweaving memories of her childhood with the present day on her runs through the mountains surrounding her home in Santa Fe, left her in a fog of uncertainty — not unlike the one we’re in now, she says:
“That was really what I learned in grieving for my father — being in that fog was it felt like you were very lost, but it was quite generative at the same time. It was a creative place. I think this is too, but we're just in the thick of it right now. I'm trying to come up with schedules and what am I doing? And then I'm like, wait, I just have to just trust that this is unfolding the way it's supposed to.
... Our way points are gone and you see people trying to create their way points for themselves in various ways, all of which are totally legitimate and awesome and they will really work for them. I love all these virtual races but that is not where I'm being called, because I'm being called to just totally strip down my running to just the most fundamental like just being in the mountains running by myself.
I'm having it like, unplugged running. But other people, I think, need the structure and they need the motivation [of] I'm going to do this virtual race and then this one. It’s so interesting to see how people deal with uncertainty and there's not one good or bad way.”
There’s much more from our conversation that I want to share — and will in an issue very soon for members — but I wanted to share these thoughts with all of you now, as they capture so much of the way I’ve been feeling as well.
What do you think? How has your approach to running, staying fit and well, and life in general changed over these past few weeks? I’d love to know.
As always my friends, let me know how your running is going — keep in touch.
(P.S.: Don’t forget, you can follow us on Instagram and share your photos of your daily runs while we’re all stuck at home — tag your photos with the hashtag #myruntoday, or tag me at @halfmarathons_net.)
The Virtual San Francisco Marathon. Run any of the distances at this year’s marathon — from the 5K to the ultra — by 11:59 pm on race day (July 26) and you’ll be counted among the official results for the race. The San Francisco race this year also offers what it’s calling the iRUN365 Virtual Race Series, which features races in April and May. Learn more about it here.
Live Give Run Virtual Challenge. While this race’s fees are low — $5 for the 5K, $10 for the 10K and $13.10 for the half marathon — its proceeds go toward great causes on the front lines of the virus outbreak in Maryland: the Maryland Food Bank and the University of Maryland Medical System.
Rules for Using the Sidewalk During the Coronavirus. A first-person account of what it’s like to try to maintain social distancing rules in a big city (in this case, Washington, D.C.) while also trying to maintain some semblance of normal life, especially when it comes to exercising outdoors. This writer proposes some ideas we ought all to consider: “There has to be a better way for us all to be outside.”
Paris Bans Daytime Outdoor Exercise. Starting today in the French capital, no one is allowed out on the streets to exercise between 10:00 am and 7:00 pm. This may or may not be a sign that similar bans will happen in the U.S., but awareness is always a good thing — and a signal that if we want to keep running outside, we need to observe social distancing rules everywhere else as faithfully as possible.
Should I Wear a Mask While Running? Especially if you live in a big city, this is something to seriously consider. But health experts caution the best thing you can do when you exercise outdoors is to do it alone, and avoid other people altogether — because wearing a mask improperly might do more harm than good.
And of course, there’s always this option:
A song to run to today
“Days Like These” from the album Falling From Grace by Janis Ian.
Want to hear all the songs we include in our newsletters? Listen to the full playlist on Spotify here.