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By now we’ve figured out that dealing with COVID-19 is and will continue to be a marathon, not a sprint. As an eight-time marathoner and Ironman triathlete, every time I signed up for a race, I knew what I was getting myself into.
But I did not sign up for COVID-19, and neither did you. We were all dropped off at the starting line, with no choice in the matter and no training plan. That said, throughout this uncertain time, I’ve found myself leaning on tactics I’ve learned in my marathon training: how to pace myself, push through the tough parts, embrace discomfort and shift the plan when an unexpected situation arises. It’s OK to feel frustrated and afraid, but complacency, complaining and quitting won’t get us anywhere.
Below are nine tactics that have helped me put one foot in front of the other when the finish line is still far away.
1. Keep moving, even if you have to walk.
For those who have run a marathon, you can relate to wanting to just quit. The mantra I use here is “One foot in front of the other; just keep moving,” because every step forward leads you to the finish line. It’s OK to slow down or walk, meaning that in our day-to-day life, as long as you maintain forward progress, you don’t have to check off every box on your to-do list.
2. Focus on what you can control.
I have run the New York City Marathon in extreme cold and rain, and the Chicago Marathon through brutal headwinds. I even ran Boston in April 2013, the year of the finish line bomb. (You can read my sentiments on that day here.) On those tough days when I couldn’t control brutal race conditions and questioned why I even signed up for the race, I reminded myself that what I could control was my attitude. Take advantage of what you can control and let go of the variables you cannot. For instance, a schedule is something you can somewhat control, so set a schedule for school time, work time, personal time and family time. A schedule helps us focus on prioritizing the things that matter most. So for example, family dinner means family dinner … it does not mean “one more email.”
3. Pace yourself.
At the starting line of a marathon, it’s natural to get carried away with adrenaline and the feeling of fresh tapered legs. You might be tempted to set a pace that isn’t ideal for 26.2 miles. Runners call this “fly and die!” I’m guilty. But pacing is key to remaining resilient and not burning out. Ways to pace yourself in everyday life include taking breaks (seriously, take those breaks!), slowing down when you need to and making sure you take the time for yourself to play with your kids, get outside, meditate, journal or do whatever helps you manage anxiety or sadness.
4. Adjust your race plan.
In a marathon, getting to the finish line is your goal. What you are doing and what your goals are (i.e., maintain business, maintain wellness, maintain strong relationships), have not changed for the most part, but how you get there has. So adjust your habits to meet those goals. It may take you a little longer in the same way that running in the headwind led me to a slower race time, but the key is to find ways to keep moving forward. For example, if you’ve lost clients, focus on helping others and seek to build relationships that will come back to benefit you in the long run. Or if you’re able to take your brick-and-mortar business more online, pivot to that. Most important, lead with heart and empathy in times of crisis.
5. Use mantras.
When I’m running a marathon, I use mantras, and some of my favorites are inspired by people such as my favorite Peloton instructor, Robin Arzon, whose marathon race mantra is “I AM.” Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier and co-host of the Happier podcast, recently had a show focused on a few great COVID-19 mantras, including one I love: “If not now, when?”
Our family mantra for COVID-19 is “Go with the flow,” meaning that sometimes school starts a little late, or sometimes we don’t have the chocolate milk the kids love or sometimes we lose a client we were counting on. We remind each other to go with the flow and be accepting of what is happening to us during what is most definitely a NOT normal time.
6. Look for silver linings.
During a race, one silver lining that helps me endure the lows is bonding with fellow runners. I love offering and receiving motivational shout-outs or high-fives. I have particularly vivid memories of mile 15 in the NYC Marathon, which (as anyone who has run it will recall) comes after a pretty brutal point in the race — the dark, somewhat uphill, spectator-less Queensboro bridge. When I finally exited the bridge onto the downhill stretch of 1st Avenue, the street was wide open, loud, vibrant and packed with spectators. It was an endorphin rush I will never forget. It was my silver lining.
At home, now, silver linings are walk breaks with my husband, cooking homemade meals with my kids and the ability to move my body and use exercise as an outlet. Think about what makes you smile throughout the day and express gratitude for it.
7. Think of how you want to remember this marathon.
When I ran my first marathon in Miami, it was hot. Blistering hot. But while I ran, I thought a lot about how I wanted to look back on my first-ever marathon as a positive experience, and that helped me keep going. Similarly, think about how you want your kids, or even how YOU want to remember this time, as you’re relating it to your grandkids someday. I know it’s tough, but seek out the moments that you’ll hold onto as good memories, even if it’s those Zoom happy hours where you danced.
8. Establish a reward.
For some, it’s all about the finisher medal. For others it’s about running for loved ones they’ve lost or those who are suffering. For me, it’s about the satisfaction of achievement, celebrating my health and let’s face it, my own mental health. Exercise is my personal meditation, outlet and what keeps me from going insane. Establish rewards for yourself and your family during this time. Whether it’s treating yourself to more Netflix, to one glass of wine every night, to Friday pizza dinner or a comfy new pair of ‘work from home’ pants (these are my personal faves), it’s encouraging to earn a prize at each mile marker of this pandemic.
9. Express gratitude for the aid stations and volunteers.
Ask any marathoner or Ironman triathlete about volunteers during the race and they will smile with appreciation. After I witnessed bombs go off in Boston, volunteers stepped in to help me call my husband immediately. Of course, that was unexpected, but COVID-19 is even more unprecedented, and I am so grateful for the front line and medical personnel who are helping those who are directly affected by COVID-19. It’s important is to thank the post office staff, the medical personnel, the Amazon delivery drivers (and tip well where you are able), to make them feel appreciated.
A marathon is 26.2 miles, and we know where the finish line is. So in the case of COVID-19, we are running what is more like an ultra-marathon. As for the specific distance, we are not so sure. But trust that there is a finish line and we will experience challenge, hardship and discomfort along the way. So I encourage you to rely on your friends, family and online networks, and when you ask or offer to help, be specific with your ask. Perhaps it’s an introduction to a business prospect or it’s asking someone to do a grocery run for you.
We are all human beings, and while we call what we are doing now “social distancing,” I consider it to be more like “physical distancing.” Because socially, we are united. We may not have the sweaty hugs and high-fives I miss so much, but we do have each other, and together, we will make it to the finish line. At the end of all of this, when we see the balloons, the Gatorade and our friends and families gathered together, we will have a much greater appreciation for community and for each other. We will come out of this stronger. Together.