Everything You Need To Thrive In Self-Isolation You Learned From Running A Marathon

I’m far from the first person to compare our current shelter in place/quarantine/self-isolation situation to running a marathon. Some politician referring to dealing with coronavirus as ‘a marathon and not a sprint’ should be an important square on any pandemic press conference bingo card.

But for us runners and marathoners, such comparisons aren’t just cliches and platitudes.

We don’t think about marathons in the way non-runners think of marathons (“You run how far!? I don’t even want to drive that far!”).

Marathoners have put in the time and put in the miles.

We work on our mindset, push through the boredom of endless miles on tedious long runs. We get up on cold, rainy Saturdays to run 20 miles even when we don’t feel like it, and do one more lap of the track, even when we are sure we can’t do one more lap of the track.

Everything You Need To Survive and Thrive in Self-Isolation You Learned From Running a Marathon

(Pedantic side note: I know ‘quarantine,’ ‘self-isolation,’ ‘shelter in place,’ and ‘lockdown’ all mean different medical and legal things. For my purposes, I’m using and thinking about them interchangeably to mean people voluntarily staying at home because it’s the right thing to do).

You are a marathoner. You got this whole suffering now for some future benefit thing down.

The skills you learned, practiced, and perfected training for and running a marathon are many of the same skills you now can use to survive and thrive in self-isolation.

Break It Down

26.2 miles is a really long way to run.

A common piece of advice I give to newer marathoners is to not think about the marathon as a 26 mile run. But instead, to think of it as a series of shorter 4 or 5 mile runs.

The whole 26 miles is a big, scary, slightly incomprehensible number.

But 4 miles?

That’s an easy Sunday jog. Rinse and repeat a few times and you have yourself a marathon.

While we don’t know how long our current situation will last, you can still think about it in week-long (or day long) chunks.

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Stages Of Running A Marathon

Run the Mile You Are In

Maybe you felt off in the first mile. Maybe you felt amazing at mile 14. Maybe the wheels will totally fall off at mile 19.

None of that matters if you are currently running mile 16.

You can’t change what happened before.

You have only limited control over what will happen in the future (we’ll come back to this in a second).

Both in the marathon and in the current pandemic, run the mile you are in.

Focus on the current moment.

  • How do you feel mentally?
  • How do you feel physically?
  • Do you need to hydrate or fuel?
  • Where is your mindset?

I once heard a quote: Fear is of something not happening right now. This has never been more true.

Focus on what is happening right now.

Boredom Is Your Frenemy

Running a marathon, even when you love running, even if you love running marathons, can be boring.

Nearly every course has a few sections with no spectators or super boring scenery.

Where running a mile seems to take an hour.

Lots of marathon training is about learning how to either distract yourself from, or embrace and thrive in, boredom.

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Running Is Boring

Keep Going – Even When It Sucks

Running a marathon is never easy.

Odds are, there will be parts of race day that really suck. Either you didn’t fuel or train properly, or the weather gets too hot, or your shoe (for the first time ever) causes major blisters.

You may want to quit.

It can be really tempting to quit.

But the core of what it means to be a marathoner is you don’t quit.

You don’t quit, even when it gets hard, or uncomfortable, or boring, or tedious (man, I’m really selling the marathon as a fun thing to do, aren’t I?).

Sometimes it epically sucks, but you keep going anyway.

There Are Ups and Downs

It never ceases to amaze me how much of a roller coaster race day can be.

Mentally, physically, emotionally – one second you are on cloud nine, feeling like this is all a walk in the park, the next, you are totally over it and in a pit of self-despair and pity.

Enjoy the ups when you are there.

And know the downs won’t last forever.

It Always Gets Better… Eventually

When the going gets tough, know it always gets better.

Maybe it actually gets better on the run.

Maybe you just get used to it.

Or, maybe you (eventually) cross the finish line.

Whichever is true for you, one of them will happen.

No matter how bad it seems, it won’t stay that way forever.

Every Step Leads You Closer To The Goal

A runner will take (roughly) 52,000 steps in a marathon.

One step barely makes a dent in the whole.

But progress is progress.

One step leads to two, which leads to three. Three steps leads to a mile, which leads you to 26.

Sure, a single step can feel almost irrelevant when viewed as a portion of the whole, but you can’t get to the finish line without it.

You Have Less Control Than You Think

A big part of marathon training is learning to deal with the issues that arise on the run.

You can’t run 15, 20, or 26 miles without something unexpected happening. Poor fueling, running low of water, terrible weather, your pants chafing something fierce.

All during training, new challenges will continually arise. You learn that those things will happen whether or not you want them to.

You can’t just wish problems away or simply hope nothing bad will happen on race day.

You can plan ahead and minimize the chances of something bad happening (learning from poor fueling in training, for example, to prepare a race day fueling plan).

However, ultimately succeeding as a marathoner means you don’t just hope things will work out for the best. You expect something will happen, and you get ready to respond and adjust on the fly.

You change your mindset or change how you respond, because those are the things you actually can control.

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Two runners on the road by the beach

Food Options Are Limited

What you wouldn’t give for a PB&J or potatoes (or whatever your mid-run craving or need is).

Maybe you really wish you’d packed another sleeve of margarita chews.

But you didn’t.

You have what you have.

Maybe you really don’t want to have a fourth watermelon GU. But if that’s all you have in your pack and you need to fuel, a fourth watermelon GU it is.

You’ll just have to make do with the resources you have on hand, even if they aren’t your first choices.


Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home


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