I never thought I’d say this, but I really miss group runs. I’ve always been a bit of a loner when it came to running, preferring to zone out to music rather than gab with friends (seriously, who can talk and run for that long?). But as running became more than just a weekend hobby, my feelings changed. While training for my last marathon, I joined my first organized run group: a speed work team that met at 6 a.m. every Wednesday for two months. Now, at the time, early mornings and group runs were two of my least favorite things. But every Tuesday night I’d set my alarm and every Wednesday morning I’d show up. It didn’t take long for me to begin to actually look forward to these sessions. The workouts, the coaches, the East River sunrises I’d catch on my walks home. Even after the race, I found myself searching for the 2020 openings, hoping to find a new group to join. I just couldn’t get enough.
Fast-forward three months and we’re all about one burnt babka away from losing our minds. When the CDC instituted social distancing as a way to stay healthy and slow the spread of the virus, races and group training were some of the first events to be suspended, postponed or outright canceled (for good reason). There’s no doubt that staying active has helped me get through these uncertain times, but even so, my solo runs have never felt lonelier. On top of missing my group, my usual route is quieter than ever. Yes, this is a good thing (and, yes, I still wear a mask) but the neighborly waves and smiling strangers I’m used to encountering were gone. It was just me...and this started to get old fast.
If I wanted to keep running, I knew I had to get creative. Enter the Nike+ Run Club (NRC) app and its Audio Guided Runs. The NRC is one of Nike’s free exercise apps that lets you track your runs, log your stats and even shop for new gear. I stumbled upon the Audio Guided Runs a few years ago when I was between races and needed a little motivational guidance (I’m lost without a training plan). I queued up the four-mile option, connected it to my Spotify account and was instantly hooked. These programs are the ideal combination of podcasts and music, only better because it feels like someone is right there cheering you on: "Somebody pressed start. Somebody put their shoes on. Somebody cleared all the hurdles to make it to the starting line. Somebody has found the time to do something great. And that somebody is running right now." Throughout the run, an athlete or run coach will be with you from start to finish providing motivational tips, tricks and stories to help keep you moving forward. They’ll remind you to check in with your body, pay attention to form and be present (while conveniently distracting you from the many miles you have ahead).
There are dozens of guided runs to choose from, including distance training, treadmill training and interval training. But the ones I keep coming back to right now are the mindfulness runs. NRC recently partnered with Headspace, the mental health, meditation and sleep app, to create the mindful running pack: a curated group of runs built around specific themes to help you clear your head while you hit the pavement. And as it turns out, I’m not the only one tuning in. Nike recently shared that they’ve seen “a huge uptick in mindfulness-related Audio Guided Run downloads” noting they’ve been played more than 10 million times in recent weeks. As more people are figuring out how to run alone while social distancing, this comes as no surprise. And with workout names like “Stress Free Run” and “Don’t Wanna Run Run”, there’s clearly something for everyone.
If you're new to running, there are also a ton of options to help you get started. Emily Hutchins, a Nike Master Trainer based in Chicago, recommends the "Get Started" Collection, including "First Run," "Next Speed Run" and "Next Long Run." “These runs are easier, don’t have as many long intervals and focus on building a foundation prior to progressing on intensity," she says. If you’re a bit more seasoned, Hutchins suggests testing out a speed run, like “Go Team Go, BTC” or “Runner Up.” “They’re great for added motivation to keep up with speed work, especially when you don’t have access to a treadmill or a running class.” To help round out my own fitness routine, I’m also turning to the Nike Training Club app, which is currently granting free access to premium training programs including bodyweight sessions, yoga flows and nutritional guidance.
Ready for more ideas? Here are six other ways to run alone (without feeling alone) while social distancing.
1. Call a friend
Pick a time, add it to your calendars and head out on the run together (you know, if you’re the chatty type). Laughing with a friend will make the time fly by, and who doesn’t love a multitasking check-in?
2. Listen to a new podcast or audiobook
This can really be anything, but listening to a fitness-focused podcast like "Your Best Life with Anna Victoria" is a great alternative to music. If audiobooks are more your thing, try listening to something that will inspire and excite you on your run. 26 Marathons by American long-distance runner Meb Keflezighi and Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold, professional rock climber and star of the Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo, are two options we can’t get enough of.
3. Share your run on social media
For the uninitiated, Strava is basically the Instagram of running. You can log your activity and share your running stats, including distance, pace and time directly on the app. Your friends and followers can then comment or give kudos (the equivalent of liking) to help support your training from afar. RunKeeper by Asics and Nike Run Club are other options that provide similar community benefits.
4. Sign up for a virtual race
If you and your sister made a pact to run a 10K this summer, you still can. There are tons of virtual races out there that are just a quick Google search away and most of them are donating a portion of their proceeds to charity. In honor of Global Running Day on June 3, STRIDE teamed up with Road Runner Sports to create a Hit Your Stride virtual 5K and 10K benefitting Feeding America (and yes, you still get a medal). To help you get prepared, have your running buddy hold you accountable. There are even virtual running groups out there to help you stay on track.
5. Join a running challenge
A running challenge is similar to a virtual race, but it’s done completely on your own time (and usually over the course of a few days, weeks or months). Earlier this month, Under Armour’s MapMyRun app launched a Through This Together 30-day challenge encouraging runners to help celebrate the COVID-19 front line workers. You can find similar options on the Strava and Nike Run Club apps as well. These challenges exist to help runners push themselves to achieve new goals, while simultaneously creating a community where they can support one another. Plus, they often include free prizes for participants. (New shoes, anyone?)
6. Bring the dog along
He’s (wo)man’s best friend for a reason.