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Becoming a Runner During the Global Pandemic

We all have a story about how we became runners. Some of us were runners or athletes in school, and our love of movement carried through to adulthood. Some of us were never athletes, and motherhood brought us running as a way to focus on ourselves and our well-being. This is the story of how my friend, Janis, became a runner because of a global pandemic.

Janis is not someone who ever defined herself as a runner. Yet, she is no stranger to running. Her sister and brother-in-law are triathletes. Her daughter, Emily, is a runner currently training for her first marathon. And she’s my friend, which means she listens to me talk about running ad nauseum

Janis is 54. She has two grown kids, two cats, two grandkids. She is a talented artist who lives in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, surrounded by miles of trails. In high school, Janis was more likely to be found smoking in the bathroom than training on the track. Once she and Emily decided to try a couch-to-5k plan. The first - and only - day ended with Janis exclaiming, “Why would people do this?!” Then, in 2012, after increasing numbness in her arms and legs, Janis was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder that causes paralysis from a body's immune system attacking the nerves. She was hospitalized for 6 weeks, and it was a year before she could walk without assistance.

new runner crosses first finish line
Spoiler alert: Janis crosses her first finish line

Fast forward to 2019 when a pandemic decided to toe the global start line. Our group of friends tried to get together safely when we could, but the anxiety built up. Janis lives alone and felt the effects of isolation differently than those of us constantly surrounded by our families.

In early June, Janis and another friend (Hi, Kristin!), came over for driveway dinner. We talked about the pandemic and our shared stress, worries, and coping mechanisms. The conversation weaved its way to getting outside and forward motion. To help Janis manage her mounting loneliness, I suggested she walk around her block. That’s it: the block. Not a mile. Not a 5k. Couch-to-block sounds more manageable when you’re working on simply surviving.

The next day, Janis got out of bed, put on a pair of shoes, and walked around the block. And she did it the next day. And the next. She would walk farther when it felt good, and, by the end of June, she bought a pair of running shoes. Janis asked if she could walk the training plan for the first Love The Run You’re With series. The next text said, “I did it! I signed up for my first race!” When she called for training advice, I kept my advice simple: get the right shoes, do the strength, take rest days. Janis went from walking to running intervals to running longer intervals.

new runner crosses first finish line

On August 29, as part of our LTRYW race weekend, Janis finished her first race, complete with a finish line ribbon and cheering fans (okay, me and Emily). Janis has now earned medals for multiple virtual 5ks and a 10k. Like a true runner, she has been injured and forced to take time off to recover, but that has not derailed her. She is a devoted member of Many Happy Miles. The monthly challenges feed her reward-driven brain and the coloring pages in the MHM journal serve as motivation. She’s all in; she now owns a BOSU, therapy bands, and a foam roller (and she uses them!).

Most exciting, Janis has running goals: she wants to complete a 5k running the entire 3.1 miles, with no intervals. The finish line must be crossed at an in-person race. “I want a real race with balloons at the finish line.” And, like every BAMR reading this, Janis has found that she needs to figure out how to balance running, work, art and life. (She did combine her interests and designed her very own pair of running pants based on artwork of her cat, Percy.)

new runner fancy pants
Janis' artwork and her super fancy Percy-themed running pants

Janis did not start out wanting to be a runner. She became a runner because she needed to find a way to not lose herself during this past year. What mattered at the beginning was the habit of the movement, not the distance traveled. So, every day she repeated: “Don’t think; just go,” and she went. Today, I’m not sure we could convince her to stop.

I asked Janis if she considers herself a runner. She said, “It hits my consciousness every time I’m going to go out for a run. If I could run a whole 5k, in a race with balloons, I would feel more authentic,” she admits. “But, yes, I would say I’m a runner.”

What motivated you to become a runner?

13 responses to “Becoming a Runner During the Global Pandemic

  1. Janis, my friend…I think you are an amazing woman and I’m VERY proud of you… you’ve inspired me to make a change. Thank you for sharing your story…I read the entire piece with a big smile on my face.

  2. Janis, nice job. It’s all about moving. I had to chuckle at the elevation gain on your screenshot. It takes a bit of effort to find any elevation around here – I’m just down the road from you – west on Minnetonka Blvd.

  3. I love this story, Alana! So great to hear how you supported your friend and how she is now a runner too despite all obstacles! I became a runner almost a decade ago because my then husband was lying paralyzed in a hospital bed for years as a result of a car accident and I felt that I needed to do something to take honor him and honor the fact that I had use of my legs while I did not. I was very overweight and could not run a minute straight but he was my motivation to get out there, day after day, in the hot Florida sun, to complete Couch 2 5K and eventually my first 5K. And now, even though he is no longer with me, I still am running!

  4. I love EVERYTHING about this story!! Kudos to Janis!! You ARE a runner!! And to Alana for recognizing that her friend needed her and reaching out. You brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart!

  5. I love this story, and am inspired by it. Great friendship, great coaching, great risk taking. You fly together!!

  6. This is such a wonderful story – thank you for sharing and way to go Janis! (PS I love your cat pants – you must share how you did this).

  7. Great story! I actually ran like crazy when the virus hit in March and upped my mileage and then just kind of quit in July and August and haven’t found my mojo to get back at it yet as I have no race to train for. Don’t get me wrong- I workout 9-10 hours a week, but have been cycling, swimming, and weight training along with hiking 2-3 times a week with my hubby instead of going off on solo runs. I felt it was more important to spend time with him the last year. Oh- the question. I started running in high school in 1970 because I saw how much fun the guys on the cross country team were having. Of course there was no girl’s team…but there was by the end of that year, and there still is at my old high school because of a few of us who pushed for that female team along with a coach!

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