Running is helping millions of us get through this
Plus: Open thread on what 'safe distance' is, and how to maintain it when you run
“One never goes further than when they do not know where they are going.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Almost a decade ago, I was working in the newsroom of The Weather Channel, writing stories for their website about weather events big and small. When things were quiet — as they usually were in the late spring to early summer back then — we’d reach back into history to find something relevant to say about today, or write brief re-caps that few people, we knew, would bother reading.
But when the skies darkened and storm clouds gathered, every word we published and everything we said on the air was scrutinized like ancient scripture, as people looked for the tiniest hints of foreshadowing in our always-changing forecasts.
As you might imagine, it’s the big weather phenomena — hurricanes, tornadoes, and the like — that get meteorologists the most excited. They’re what challenge most the skills these scientists spend a lifetime developing, and give them the chance to save lives in dire situations.
Sometimes, of course, they get forecasts wrong. I’ll never forget a hurricane that set off alarms — and, consequently, evacuation orders — up and down the East Coast once; people from Washington, D.C., to New York were warned to leave the city or to at least stay in their homes and not venture out.
That time, the weather warnings overshot what the storm actually turned out to be — a still-very-dangerous tropical cyclone that nevertheless never approached the coastline, and ended up turning back out to the ocean, where it died a “fish storm.”
And other times, the opposite happens.
That was the case with 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which swirled slowly out in the Atlantic for days as it wound its way northward from the Caribbean, after crossing over Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas.
Every morning at the daily weather briefings our meteorologists gave, I could hear the anticipation in their voices, an awareness rising that this storm was something out of the ordinary. But for days, they weren’t sure. The storm was far out in the ocean, and was failing to turn toward land, day after day.
Until it did. And when it did, it turned fast and hard, heading for one of the most densely populated places in the world as it barreled toward New York City.
The devastation, of course, you’ll likely remember — especially the photos of New York subways inundated and parking lots with hundreds of cabs up to their roofs in water.
Why am I re-hashing all this old history? Because I keep thinking of incidents like these as we all watch together the events of the past few weeks, which have played out even more slowly than the slowest-moving hurricanes I remember.
A lot of people have expressed surprise — understandably! — at the way in which we have girded ourselves (or failed to do so) as the coronavirus has spread across America. But I hear echoes of what I heard every summer and fall back in my weather-reporting days.
Even when each of us is in our healthiest frame of mind — when we’re not in imminent danger — it’s difficult to grapple with how your life can be changed by something like a major storm. It’s human nature to want to put it aside and ignore it.
It’s easy for me to say to someone, “wake up and see what’s happening!” But each of us has to come to that awareness on our own.
That’s why taking it day by day — and trying to minimize the flood of news that’s coming into all our homes and across all our smartphones — is the way I’m trying to approach it.
We probably haven’t seen as big an uptick in running in recent years as we’re seeing right now, if the New York Times and Sports Illustrated are right. I think it’s because each of us is looking for a way to process what’s happening, and running offers the perfect way to do that, one step at a time, one day at a time.
How are you processing it? Is running helping you get through this? I’d love to hear your story — either in the comments below, or in reply back.
I hope you are all well, my friends — as always, keep in touch.
P.S.: I’ve started a “5K a Day” training group on Instagram, to offer a way to maintain my own running and check in with others, post photos of how our runs went, or just get some support and a little community with one another. Interested? Join us here.
Great running reads
As Covid-19 Spreads, How Do You Ethically Get Outdoors? Less than five minutes from where I live lies a series of U.S. national recreation area parks along the Chattahoochee River, but they’re closed to the public for now, until the virus can be brought under control. That’s the case across much of the U.S., which leaves many of us wondering: what can we do outdoors safely and ethically, so we don’t endanger our fellow citizens? Especially as parks may be one of the last safe spaces we can be together now, as they allow us to remain a safe distance from one another?
“In the West, we’ve got plenty of space. But are we supposed to be using it?”
Running Is the Outlet That Unites Us All During the Coronavirus Crisis. This one, by famed Olympic runner (and writer, filmmaker and actress) Alexi Pappas, is from the heart. She describes what it’s been like to spend much of this year training in the hills of Greece, where she’s spent days running through forests as she trains for the Tokyo Olympic Games, which now have been postponed until 2021. She can’t travel home to see her friends and family, but she’s finding that running brings her solace as one of the few things she can control right now. Really powerful essay.
“Right now, feeling like we have control over our lives, even in just small measures, is so important to ensuring that our society perseveres through this time with grace.”
How to Learn to Love Solo Running. If you’re accustomed to running only (or at least most of the time) as part of a group, these helpful tips from Runner’s World magazine will give you a way back into running alone, which is probably how you started. Not to worry — you don’t have to feel the pangs of the “loneliness of the long distance runner.” You just have to learn how to adjust your running if you’ve been training hard, how to tune out, and where to go to find places that will fill your soul.
“After an intense training period in the build up to your postponed race, simply going for a run without any plan for time or distance can be a liberating experience.”
No, Californians, Sheltering in Place Doesn’t Include Hiking in Crowds. While it’s great that so many of us are getting outdoors for exercise thanks to all the work-at-home and shelter-in-place orders — make no mistake, anything that gets people outside and moving is a good thing — we need to take care not to make a fault of this virtue. Visitation to some California state parks has swelled by as much as 90 percent over the past couple of weeks, prompting state officials to close down access to state parks and their parking lots. That doesn’t stop a lot of people from getting in, however.
“There’s a little bit of lack of explicitness ... Can you go hike as long as there’s not too many people? And who’s keeping track of that?”
🎧 Listen: Longform Podcast: Jon Mooallem. If there was ever a time when a book is right for the moment, it’s author Jon Mooallem’s new book This is Chance! The Shaking of an All-American City, A Voice That Held It Together. This interview about his just-published book, which chronicles the work of part-time radio reporter Genie Chance during the catastrophic 1964 earthquake that hit Anchorage, Alaska, reveals how people really respond to disaster: “When the bottom drops out, when ordinary life is overturned and there’s this upheaval or this disruption — if it’s a natural disaster or even something like this, that there’s ... in the book I call it a ‘civic immune response.’ People do spontaneously help each other, they work together, they collaborate.
“This whole idea that society falls apart and everyone descends into madness and violence is just not true.”
🏃♂️ Run: The Social Distance Run. A cool idea to keep runners together (while not actually running together), from the people who organize the Orca Running and Evergreen Trail Runs series in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an 8-week virtual training program that allows you to choose among 6 race distances, from 5K all the way up to 50K — “like a pack of introverted hyenas, we keep our distance but still look out for one another.” Sign up here.
A few songs to run to today
Want to hear all the songs we include in our newsletter? Listen to our full playlist on Spotify here.
Open thread: How to keep a ‘safe distance’?
One of the best things we can do for our mental health right now is getting plenty of exercise, preferably outside. But in the parts of the country that have been hardest hit by the virus so far — big urban centers — finding a place to do that on your own can be a challenge, to say the least.
How are you finding places, times and spaces to run where you can also keep a safe, ample distance from others out there with you?