Running in the Time of Corona
COVID-19 has changed life dramatically for everyone. I have had quite a few conflicting feelings over the past week. Vacillating between over-reacting and under-reacting, panic and dismissal, fear and hope, I sit in my house. I want to do my part. During this time, I have learned as much as I can about COVID-19. I have watched too much news and too many YouTube videos on viruses, epidemiology, and what to do to slow the transmission of this disease. The basics as I see them are:
Wash your hands
Don’t touch your face
Stay at home
Outside is for necessities only
Social distancing when outside
Wash your hands
Wash your hands
Wash your hands
I have stayed exclusively indoors for the last several days, trying my best to take all of this seriously and think of others that my actions might affect. I think of my mother and want my actions to reflect how I want others to treat her, with kindness and concern. Following all the rules, I want to keep her and everyone else healthy.
Health is more important than ever. The last thing my doctor said to me three weeks ago was, “Keep running.” The rules have changed practically overnight. The outside sometimes feels like that childhood game of Lava, except now everything and everyone is lava, and the molten rock is a potentially lethal virus. But I know that is not entirely true either. The outdoors is not canceled. The biggest rule of the day out there is social distancing. Fresh air and sunshine are good for me as is running. A natural immunity booster, it has become crucial to my physical and mental well-being.
A year ago, I was nearly eighty pounds heavier, and there was no way I could have run one mile, let alone the six I did today. My decision to go out today was not one I took lightly. I want to be a responsible and diligent citizen in this time when public health is of the utmost importance. As a recovering alcoholic with almost five years of sobriety and nearly four times that many years drinking, I know the power of hubris and willful ignorance to destroy lives and the huge efforts that go into repairing them. Second only to getting sober, running has been the most transformative thing in my life. A combination of science, magic, meditation, sacrifice, dedication, and willingness has taught me so much and allowed me to become lighter and stronger in my body, to calm and focus my mind, and to truly free my spirit and let go of a lot of dark emotions and painful memories that no longer serve me. It has taught me discipline when motivation has left the room. It has taught me forgiveness of other’s behaviors, including the cruelty of my father, but most importantly for myself and the decades of negative self-talk and self-loathing that are just now beginning to fade. It has taught me that health is paramount. That is something we are all getting a crash course in right now.
I have heard it said numerous times and in numerous ways that the only way to run a mile is to run a mile. There are no shortcuts or easy ways around it. Perhaps this is the case for the world right now. We have hit a wall, but the race ain’t over. We need to dig deep and find the resources to make it through to the finish line. I know there is a lot of real suffering and founded fears about the future out there. My struggles pale in comparison to some of those I’ve read about or seen online.
One of the oldest recovery sayings out there is “one day at a time.” It would appear this is true more than ever right now. I check in with the world. See what’s new, what’s the same, and what needs to be done. I reach out to loved ones and those in my community, doing my best to make sure that those people are cared for and doing okay in this moment. The same is true of running for me. I focus on one step at a time. I do a sweep of all systems: Breathing easy? Check. Ankles holding up? Check. Posture good? Check. Feet landing properly? Check. I don’t worry too much about the next mile until I get there. Mostly I try to be in the moment of each step and assess as I go. Such is life these days.
I promise to be a responsible runner. I will avoid beaches and trails or anywhere folks seem to congregate. There are lots of quiet streets in my neighborhood to run down. I will no longer be pushing buttons at the crosswalks, but rather using the red light as a signal to turn and run another way. I promise to keep my distance instead of just keeping track of it. I will even carry a small bottle of my own homemade, high-proof hand sanitizer just in case. We are all in this together, and I want to do my part. As long as it is safe, I will continue to run. It is great for immunity and overall health. Public health has to begin with my health, which is your health, which is everybody’s health. I promise to do what is necessary to look out for you and act accordingly.
So, if you see me out there, let’s wave and smile at each other as I speed up and head to the other side of the street. See you at the finish line.
——John Staley John Staley is a writer, producer, and co-host of three podcasts ( A is for Alcoholic, Gluten is NOT Your Problem, and Rashida & John). He is also the creative director of Green Camel Press: a comics, stop motion animation, and art production house. A recovering alcoholic and avid runner, John looks forward to the reopening of the trails in his home in beautiful Sonoma County.