Social Distancing & Evolutionary Psychology (& Running)
Regarding the social distancing protocol that is in place, it certainly makes sense and is reasoned to be the 2nd best way to stop the spread of the pandemic, with the eventual mass vaccine/anecdote being 1st. As it relates to being outside and being the social creatures that we are, in the past week I've seen more runners out-and-about in DC than usual. DC is always crawling with runners, which I enjoy about my city, but I see more than usual these days, with people having extra time to workout if they're not at the office/commuting. I see some of them running in the outside lanes on Connecticut Ave to attempt to keep distance between the folks on the sidewalk (and since they're are relatively few cars on the road). The trail behind my apartment building is full of walkers and runners every time I peer out my window. Hopefully everyone maintains this level activity when the world gets a full green light again, right?
With people feeling "cooped up" and/or isolated after x-amount of days/weeks in their homes, it's sensible that they want to get outside and at least see other humans (we are social creatures by nature), as well as to importantly enjoy fresh air. I don't see any issue with doing workouts outside, just be smart and keep your distance. The efficacy of face masks is debatable at the time of this post, but use them if that's what your gut tells you to do. Bring hand sanitizer or thin gloves if you're using outdoor equipment, as it looks like most apartment/office gyms are shutting down too. ST videos on Youtube can definitely shake up your routine and keep it fun! There is no shortage of ST/PT vids online, have at it! Whatever you're doing outside, I don't believe that you have to feel guilty about it. If you know you have symptoms (fever, dry cough, abnormally low energy) then I assume you're self-quarantined already. I receive university emails daily regarding virus updates, and I also keep checking the CDC website, and here is the most basic info about corona that I will repeat here:
"People may be sick with the virus for 1 to 14 days before developing symptoms. The most common symptoms of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. More rarely, the disease can be serious and even fatal. Older people, and people with other medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), may be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill."
We’re all in the same boat right now in terms of canceled races/events…things that were very important to us are now completely off the radar until at least July at this point. Some of the bigger international races have postponed their date to the fall, in which it's nice to see that they're trying to salvage the experience for everyone involved. I always say that I'm optimistic, but not blindly. I'm hopeful for the miracle of modern science to put up a winning fight against Mother Nature with this new pandemic, but I obviously can't make any educated guesses beyond that of our true experts, to whom I've been listening as much as I can outside the usual news outlets. In the meantime, and to reiterate from above, you are not a selfish individual for being outside in the fresh spring air right now. You want to keep your momentum in terms of health/fitness, and there's a reason fit people are less affected by the virus. Your athletic goals and events are a part of your identity and your psychological well-being, so you have my support, just don't be overzealous about it in the face of others. One of the runners I coach was slated to run his first 50-miler this weekend, but it got canceled, yet he's possibly going to run 50M on his own this weekend and serve as his own support staff too. No qualms from me (as long as he protects his immune system afterward and takes a full recovery week, right?).
Personally, I am still symptom-free and I've been doing relatively short runs most days. Some people on the sidewalk appear to be almost jumping out of the way when they see me coming. No doubt, you too have at least once had a stranger "dodge you", as if you're a weapon or a zombie. I acknowledge that it's an eerie feeling to experience that, and despite how high our self-esteem might be, it can sting for a moment. Don't fret or take it personally. That's evolutionary psychology making it sting…the "need" to be accepted by the rest of the tribe, or to be affiliated with others (Maslow's hierarchy, see attached photo), or to at least not feel like an outcast, right? To that last point, we have sensitivity ("sensors") built into our animal/primate brains to sense danger, which is not just physical threat, but also disease, germs, and the sick people around us. Hence the great debate in psychology about whether altruism really exists, or if we help others merely to get rid of our own feelings of sympathy, pity, remorse, or disgust and/or to make ourselves feel good/noble for helping someone else (spoiler: altruism does exist).
I begin the psych courses I teach with a reminder that to ignore evolutionary psychology is to miss out on the understanding of almost all of our modern behaviors too (as a species). Everything is just more sophisticated now. There's a reason people might unknowingly exaggerate their movements to avoid you while you're running, for the very same reason you feel uneasy when they do it. The explanation is that we are, a) creatures designed for survival = "stay away from the bad stuff", and b) creatures designed to be social. You can make the same jokes I have about how social distancing already began in 2010 with the advent of smart phones (haha), but I empathize with any of you who think it's odd when parents warn their kids, "no, honey, wait!!!" as you walk into your building at the same time as a family (as I did last night…I chuckled to myself…it was so damn eerie to be a part of that moment). Or the one person I saw in the grocery store who nearly had a panic attack when someone walked past with a cart within 6 feet. Luckily that's been the exception and not the norm.
I tend to be the odd-ball anyway who waives and smiles at people when I run around the city, so there's one way to keep the normalcy…go ahead and waive/smile/head-nod at some people you see out there. Evolutionary psych tells us that one of the first "symbols" we recognize as newborns is a smiling face. Keep the sense of community/friendliness going, just as I say thank you on-the-fly as often as I can to the race volunteers at the aid stations during my races. Viva la happiness. Don't feel guilty, don't feel shame, don't feel like a mutant. Stay active, run outside, just don't annoy anyone. Check the CDC site occasionally, please (please) don't stay glued to the news stations or online headlines/clickbait (life is not horrible). Who knows when this will "flatten out". I'll be optimistic for at least local races to occur in the fall. Stay motivated…feed your momentum, your identity ("ego"), and keep me posted, I'm here to help you navigate.