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Virgen: Pandemic has inspired walker to run

Because of the pandemic, Assistant Sports editor at the Albuquerque Journal Steve Virgen has taken up running. He’s running up to eight miles per day. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

For all of my life I’ve hated distance running, mainly because I never believed in running more than 3 miles.

I’d scoff at the thought of wearing a pair a running shoes and those short shorts, only to run, run and run around just for the sake of running.

Back in high school, I quit the cross country team, and that experience only strengthened the belief that running was not meant for me.

But then along came this coronavirus pandemic, a stay-at-home order that left everyone with hardly any activities available. Gyms were closed. I could no longer play basketball with my buddies twice a week as I did before the public health order was issued for all of us to stay at home back in March.

Even then, my daily exercise came in the form of walking. Then it progressed to once-a-week “wogs,” when I walked most of my route and mixed in some jogging.

Three weeks ago, I challenged myself to run, or jog faster at least, for the 5.5 miles that I had usually walked.

I did it!

But then I asked: What if I added a couple more miles?

I saw athletes increasing their training online and read about others excelling “during these challenging times.”

I drew inspiration from young and old. There was Cleveland High wide receiver Luke Wysong and his teammates posting on Twitter intense workout videos of them running uphill at the John B. Robert Dam on Juan Tabo Blvd.

And I read about Ken Hoeksema, the Placitas man who celebrated his 72nd birthday by walking 100,000 steps in one day.

I was left thinking of two words: “Let’s go!”

I added 2.5 miles to my route near Montgomery Park and along the Hahn Arroyo. I gained encouragement from friends after posting the feat, with the humble brag that I was shocked I ran so far. No, but really, I am still stunned.

It wasn’t that long ago, you could sense a bit of a weak tone in my column about a virtual run with Dr. Anthony Fleg and Running Medicine Albuquerque on March 28. I struggled so much to run back then, complaining about the cold temperatures.

Running for me is much different now. I’ve been averaging 8 miles per day the past three weeks. Even typing that makes me chuckle.

But it’s great. I’ve lost 10 pounds since March. When I run, there are moments when I feel invincible, like I’ll never stop. A rush.

Running, and exercise, during a worldwide lockdown helped ease the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. The majority of my fear did not come from being infected, but it was more about the solitude, confronting bouts of anxiety and depression that I have not experienced before.

Running has helped overcome that, the hate has turned to love.

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