• Pete Simpson

Shifting Covid Mood Curves With A "Virtual" 5k

How have you been feeling during Covid-19?

“Oh I’m fine, how about you?” I usually mutter in a polite British way , trying not to make a fuss so that we can all just go about our day to day lives.

The reality? It’s been up and down and I’ve hit most points on the mood curve at some point during a typical week while living in a quarantined isolated world.

This morning I woke up pretty close to the bottom of the scale.

A stressful week at work, a Lockdown birthday on my lonesome and no road racing or travelling to look forward to any time soon had all left me feeling a bit flat and slightly glum about life.

Usually running a 5k on a Saturday would involve a local parkrun - a great tonic to everyday blues as a common goal is shared with a few hundred cheery runners all equally enthusiastic about their weekend task.

With Parkrun suspended during Lockdown today’s 5k would be a “virtual” affair, pushing my body against nothing but the stopwatch for competition - hard to get motivated for at the best of times and I couldn’t think of many things I’d rather do less at that time…

Getting Motivated

How can you overcome the urge to stay indoors on mornings like this? A common trick is start with is to ask myself a few standard questions;

Will you look back and savour an extra hour or two in bed?

Will you be relieved you hadn’t bothered doing the run?

Will your fitness improve by staying at home?

Will you regret it later?

The answers to all of the above are a resounding NO.

Deep down I knew I’d feel better for having done some exercise and as is usually the case the self interrogation helped get over the hardest part of the day – getting out of the door in the first place!

Planning the Attack

To make things a bit less scary I decided to break the run in to three separate 5k blocks;

Block 1: Steady Warm Up

Block 2: Virtual 5k Race

Block 3: Easy Cool Down

I’d be running for about an hour and only one third of it would be at a tough race pace, so surely that wasn’t too bad?

The frequency of “virtual” races during Lockdown was also a help.

I’d done one almost bang on 18 minutes a few weeks ago – that went fine, so what was the worst that would happen if I went for a similar time again today?

I couldn’t find an answer so I popped my running shoes on, got out the door and set about the task.

Setting About the Task

Throughout each step of the warm up everything started to feel a little better as the everyday stresses of life eased away.

It’s hard to think too far ahead of the next step when you’re in motion and worries about things like work soon went away as the brain prioritised a safe landing over how complex work problems should be solved and negotiated next week.

Compared to any other racing distance, the 5k tends to be the one where I often set off “too hard” and clock the opening kilometre far faster than intended.

Even in a virtual environment this seemed to be the case as my watch beeped for the first time after 3 minutes and 26 seconds, almost 10 seconds inside of what I was trying to do. Or so I thought…

As is often the case, once you get going the fear factor starts to go away and the body keeps going in autopilot at a pace which becomes difficult to slow down.

And as it went on the pace felt tough, but never overwhelming.

As each kilometre went by the feeling of maintaining it became less and less scary until before I knew it the race was over – 17 minutes and 26 seconds of hard graft and I was one. Another race was banked and I was free to enjoy the rest of my day.

A Mood Curve Shift

The positive endorphins flooding through the body during the cool down had already answered the questions from earlier in the morning – overcoming the urge to stay in bed and the immediate feedback of a time in line with my target had already improved my outlook for the rest of the day.

The remaining negative feeling of loneliness had also been combatted by running around the park. Plenty of other runners were also putting their bodies through their paces, including my clubmate Gavin who I exchanged running tales with for 5 or 10 minutes in much the same way I would do after a park run before finishing my jog home.

Returning home with a spring in my step all that was left was to get the run on Strava to make sure it “existed”, before popping in the shower to get my body feeling as clean as my refreshed mind now did.

Out the shower and I could already see some notifications on my phone.

Congratulations from the running community were coming through thick and fast, with my efforts over 17 minutes earning more praise and appreciation in one hour than I typically receive for 5 days of work covered during a typical Monday to Friday period!

Physically fitter, mentally in a better place and in good company I’d ticked each box and gotten back to the top of the mood curve.

Plenty of the weekend was left too - with more running in store and few catch ups with family and friends planned life felt good again and I was ready to stay at the top of the curve for the rest of the weekend.

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