Phew. Y’all. I’m breathing in-2-3-4-, and out-2-3-4.
How many weeks has it been? We’re in week 4 of our Coronavirus response and adaptations here in Virginia – at Virginia Tech, in Montgomery County, Virginia specifically (though it kind of feels like a year already). I had my first adrenaline crash about a week-and-a-half ago. When was yours? I’d been working feverishly and passionately to do my part in supporting our campus in responding to the evolving world health crisis and moving toward providing for our critical teaching-mission in a virtual environment. And figuring out how to best support my own kids in shifting their educational experience to distance learning – a freshman in college suddenly back home for the remainder of her spring semester, a 6th grader, 5th grader, and 1st grader. That initial adrenaline rush response to crisis can power you through some serious challenges. But eventually it wears off, and you just crash.
The following week, I felt like I was back in the game. Only to reach Friday evening in a state of TOTAL exhaustion. I’m past the adrenaline-powered functioning, but I’ve only just come to realize that I’ve inadvertently started this new phase of our lives in a sprint, only to find out I’m really in a marathon. That I NEVER signed up for. I’d wager I’m not alone.
I am not a runner. By that I mean – I have run, I know how to run, I run in short spurts while throwing the football with my 5th grader… but I really dislike running, it’s just not my thing. I do have a lot of runner friends though. I know that rarely, if ever, is a sprinter also a marathon runner. And starting a marathon without training – seriously training and working up to it for weeks if not months – is a terrible strategy. As is sprinting at the beginning of a marathon. Yet here we are.
None of us trained for this. We are in uncharted territory. And yet, our organizations, families, and communities need us more than ever to remain connected, contributing, and compassionate. So – I’ve been talking to folks a lot about self-care… but also am now realizing that even though we know the importance of good self-care on an intellectual level, it’s so much harder to accomplish right now. I suspect many of us feel like we’re trying to give 100% to our jobs, if we’re lucky enough to still have them; 100% to our families, whether they are near or far; 100% to our friends and communities, in whatever form that care and connection takes; and what percent then to good self-care? Not to mention none of us has 300+% to give in the first place. And a situation of this magnitude brings with it all of the emotion and related anxiety of the unknown, concern for our health and that of our families, friends, coworkers, students… How do we even know what good self-care is right now? And how do we find the time for it?
Additionally challenging is finding ways to maintain supportive community, and help others to do the same. Humans are social beings and we benefit from being in community. We need to find meaningful ways to not only care for ourselves, but to continue to connect with others. And perhaps to slow our own pace and adjust our expectations. I don’t mean that in a way that would suggest we “settle” or start accepting mediocrity. But this is truly going to be a marathon, not a sprint… so we could benefit from advice given to those training for a marathon and think about how to apply the concepts in our work, relationships, and life overall right now:
- Starting early, starting small – in the current situation, we really weren’t given this option. But we can make adjustments in how we’re approaching things now, adjusting for the long haul.
- Base mileage – build your mileage slowly over time, running 3-5 times a week. This is building capacity by pacing ourselves. We can’t do everything at once, all the time. We have to do what we can as we can, and build from there.
- The long run – build up to a weekly long run, adding mileage week by week. As we add capacity over time, we can add in some “longer runs.” But not all the time – we can plan for these longer stretches, but they can’t be all the time, and we need to be sure to plan for recovery too.
- Speed work – intervals and tempo runs help to build aerobic capacity and increase stamina. Variety in the work and using approaches to build capacity on a variety of fronts are key to the long-game. We need to vary our schedules and routines in ways that support the long-term efforts.
- Rest and recovery – rest days mean no running; they let your muscles recover and help prevent both injury and mental burnout. In our work and personal lives right now, we also need rest and recovery. This may take different forms and a different schedule than it did in our “normal” life before COVID-19, but it is still immensely important. Rest, recovery, healthy sleep – these all help with overall well-being, health, stress management, and more. And this is immensely important right now.
In addition to these training-specific strategies, things like proper equipment, hydration, healthy eating, and in-run fueling are all critical to marathon success. These same things are true in our current life situation as well.
So… I know we’re all juggling. I know most of us are struggling at some level. I know we all have different life circumstances and responsibilities. But not one of us is alone in this, despite the feeling that we may be struggling with social distancing and perceived isolation. I guess I just want to encourage us all to be a little gentler with our expectations of ourselves and others – bringing our compassion to the forefront and setting our sights a bit beyond today, next week, or even this semester. We’re in this for the long haul, and we’re going to need every one of us working together and cheering each other on to cross that finish line.