Slowing Down and Paying Attention to the Small Things

Sarah Fry leans out the passenger window of a truck and her dog's head sticks out the window behind her.

By Sara Fry

Viewing the pandemic as a call to slow down and pay attention to the small things… because really the small things are big.

A friend mentioned that they hadn’t realized how over-scheduled they were until COVID-19 closed down all their 5- and 8-year-old’s sports. Suddenly they are home in the evenings, going on walks, playing games together, and eating relaxed meals as a family. Another friend feels like the pandemic is trying to remind humans of how out of sync we are with nature. Seeing photos of the canals in Venice clear for the first time in decades or satellite images showing reduced pollution brings that home and reminds me that the Earth can heal itself if we give it a chance. Slowing down – as a species and in our homes – feels like the perfect description of how I’ve adjusted my running goals.

The probable cancellation of my late-June marathon, Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota,  and the lack of group runs with the BAR is making it easier to slow down and really pay attention to my body. I’d already decided to run/walk the marathon due to my Achilles tendon. I’m still building up my total time in case the race happens, and if it’s cancelled, I’ll still continue to build up – I’ll just skip the full distance and extra fatigue that comes with it! Getting up to a 20-mile run/walk will still feel like a huge accomplishment. 

Knowing the race may not happen has made it easier to stop focusing on the length of my run intervals. After reading about someone who ran an impressive PR run/walking with 1 mile run intervals followed by 30-steps of walking, I was working towards 1 mile run intervals. I was fine at 0.4, and each week I added 0.05 or 0.1 to my running interval. Somewhere between 0.5 and 0.6 miles, my Achilles started getting annoyed. Now, in contrast, I don’t use my watch to guide how long I run – I pay attention to how I feel. I also pay attention to the possible dog distractions up ahead (if you’ve ever met Emma at a BAR run, you know the threat is real!). If I see ducks or a dog, I start to run and I stop whenever I’m in the mood. The last time I saw my PT, he couldn’t believe how much progress I’d made after being in a stuck point for so long. Maybe I’d have gotten to this spot without knowing my race may be cancelled – but I kind of doubt it!

I know BAR friends have adjusted their running in surprising ways as well. For example, Glenna Toomey viewed the cancellation of the Eugene Half Marathon as an opportunity to get out on trails and reconnect with the joy of running. She ended up running more miles that week than she did when marathon training. Some are running more, others may be running less.

Sarah Fry leans out the passenger window of a truck and her dog's head sticks out the window behind her.
Sarah, right, and Emma.

When I think about why I started running somewhat seriously close to three years ago, I wanted to get out and enjoy winter (which is a hard season for me) and have fun with Emma. As Emma has gotten older and Beau has gotten faster, my goal expanded to keep Emma fit and make it easier for Beau to do key runs and not have to be as concerned about helping get the dogs exercise. Slowing down and paying attention has helped me support Emma, too – who is having some arthritic pains that seem to have started just as COVID-19 swept across the US. I’m now keeping a training log for her so we can see if there is a sweet spot with the right mix of activity and rest.

As I look back, I see that I had doubts that I was going to be able to build up to marathon fitness safely given the pain I was having in my Achilles tendon. It’s strange to think that I may be better able to achieve my late-June running goal of being ready for a marathon distance because of slowing down and paying attention. Like Glenna “accidentally” ran higher mileage as she enjoyed the beauty of the foothills in spring and a slowing down from the cognitive demands of her challenging training plan, I am also achieving growth through changing my approach. 

I know we all look forward to a return to life as we knew it before the pandemic led to social distancing and a myriad of other changes to protect our communities, I hope we will all take some lessons with us. Slowing down (it’s a metaphor – you can still run fast!) and paying more attention to our needs, seems worthy of carrying forward.

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