For six months, from March to September, I worked from home as a virtual teacher supporting distance learners. In my former life as a busy in-person elementary teacher, I averaged 13,000 steps per day just running around campus. Now I was struggling to get 2,000. In April, I developed an exercise routine to ramp up my sedentary lifestyle and thwart some Covid pounds. I quickly became addicted to running, having loathed running my whole life. I trained to run a 5K for 3 months, then started working towards a 10K. One of the few silver linings of 2020 has been this new addiction to regular fitness.
In mid-September, I returned to the classroom full-time to teach third graders. While I expected to feel tired and overwhelmed with this new transition, I didn’t predict just how hard the fatigue would hit me. Managing the needs of in person and virtual students at the same time, navigating the heightened workload, and trying to support my own children and their constantly shifting schedules hit me like a ton of bricks. During the first week back, I could hardly walk after being on my feet all day. How in the world would I keep running?
I lamented my dilemma on social media, posting a picture of my running shoes. I had just struggled to run a mile, even though a week ago (before returning to work), I ran 4 miles in one stretch. How could I keep doing this? I asked. I’m so tired! Many friends offered suggestions. I carefully considered each one, realizing that only I could figure out what worked for me. Getting back into the running routine definitely took some trial and error, but this is what I would recommend to anyone trying to maintain their quarantine exercise routine after returning to work:
1. Decide if you’re a morning or evening person
Many friends suggested that I should start running before work. This would work for some, but most definitely not for my lifestyle. For one, I already wake up at 5:15 am, and that’s just barely enough time to get dressed, feed and prep the kids, slurp coffee, and make the trek across the Crescent City Bridge to Uptown, where my school is. The idea of running around my neighborhood with mace at 4am or being alone in a quiet house on the treadmill is simply not a motivator. Not to mention that my brain doesn’t function until I’ve had coffee. So I’ve never been a morning runner. It would be late afternoons or bust for me!
2. Make a plan
During quarantine, I ran 4-5 times a week. I know this isn’t manageable now. I decided to commit to 2 weekday runs (one shorter, one longer) and one extended weekend run. In order to fit my weekday runs into my family’s busy after school schedule, I had to make a few changes. First, I stopped teaching aftercare classes at school. This was helpful extra income, but the mental and physical benefits from my running habit are priceless. Second, I created a “homework duty” schedule with my husband. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I help our second-grader with her homework; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he does. (We both support the mostly independent sixth grader as needed.) This means I have an extra hour two days a week, which is now my sacred running time. Sundays have become my extended run day, where I fit an hour long course into the early evening before dinner, which I usually prepare right after (my husband cooks the rest of the week). Getting in a long run right before the school week begins clears my mind and motivates me to push harder when my legs aren’t sore from teaching (I just ran 5.5 miles tonight, a personal best!).
3. Stick to it — tricks and tips
It’s easy to pick a time and make a plan, but it’s much harder to stick to it. Putting out your workout clothes and gear the night before definitely helps (some friends suggest sleeping in your exercise clothes if you’re a morning workout person). Keep your water bottle full in the fridge and easy to grab. Parents of littles can take their child in a stroller to run; those of us with fur babies can take our dogs with us. It’s much harder to give up if you know your baby won’t be getting fresh air if you don’t workout or that your exercise clothes will be sadly looking at you if you skip.
4. Take it slow and reap the rewards
Getting up and out is half of the battle. How much or how hard you workout is not as important as maintaining the routine. Reward yourself and be kind. I know I won’t be running any personal bests after a long day at school, but I also know I can justify dessert or a new pair of running shorts if I keep the groove going.
5. Make it fun!
Running allows me to temporarily tune out the world and tune in to … my random Apple music playlists. When I start warming up, I hit shuffle, so I never know what to expect. Ace of Base, Coolio, Halsey, BTS, Beyonce, Beastie Boys? Yes, please! Other suggestions: find some fun podcasts to listen to, take silly celebratory selfies (I’m guilty of this too), or plan your next article for New Orleans Mom in your head while you sweat.
6. Aim for a goal
Having a long-term goal will help your motivation continue to grow. I’m training for the New Orleans Athletic Club (NOAC)’s Virtual Turkey Trot, a 5 mile race. Ultimately I want to run a 10K, or maybe more? So I have to keep the miles going if I want to meet my goal. Whether you’re weight-training, cycling, doing HIIT workouts or yoga, goals keep you focused — even if they take a little longer to achieve than you originally planned.
7. Find friends to keep you committed
Several teacher friends and I regularly check-in with each other on how our exercise routines are going, post-quarantine. A few of us are training for 10Ks together, some even hundreds of miles apart. Even if your workout is a mostly solitary pursuit, there is always more strength in numbers. Just one person (a spouse, neighbor, parent… anyone) can be the village that holds you up.