North·Point of View

How COVID-19 motivated me to start running

George Maratos has always hated running but COVID-19 has left him with little other sports to do. So, he's decided to try to enjoy it for the first time in his life.

COVID-19 has got a CBC producer thinking about running for fun for the first time in his life

George Maratos enlisted the help of longtime running coach Don White in hopes he might help him quash his hatred of running. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

I hate running, but a few weeks into pandemic life my tires were spinning and I had to get moving.

So, I decided to try and enjoy the activity I've always loathed.

I grew up playing team sports. I enjoyed them all, but especially soccer.

I played as a kid, but I started to gain weight when I was around 12 years old and found the running part of practice to be the worst.

I started playing goalie, but it turns out, goalies have to run too.

I think this is where my hatred of running began, those early days as a chubby tween, being forced to do something I really didn't want to do.

Thirty years later, here we are, in the midst of COVID-19, with no sports to play and no gyms open.

So I decided to try running again.

The Yukon is a mecca for trail running. In Whitehorse alone there are more than 700 kilometres of trail, including this one in the Hidden Lakes area. (George Maratos/CBC)

I enlisted the support of Don White to help me out. He's a long time runner and coach, who has completed 45 marathons and aims to run three every year.

He's also 69 years old, but looks 20 years younger.

Why run?

When I first met with Don I wanted to find out why he runs and why the activity is so popular.

There are more than a million runners in Canada, making it this country's most popular recreational and fitness activity.

Don says he was always a good runner as a kid, but it wasn't until he was an adult that he felt he needed to run.

The environment at his work was unhealthy, and he needed something to get away from the toxicity. Running allowed him to sweat his stress away, something it still does today.

As we walk along a wooded trail in the Whitehorse neighbourhood of Riverdale, surrounded by mountains and fresh air (fact: Whitehorse has the cleanest air in the world) I'm beginning to understand.

Don also has a resting heartbeat of 40, which is impressive considering a normal measure is 60 to 100 beats per minute for someone his age.

"I still get my flu shot every year," ensures Don.

Getting started

Don has been coaching running for more than 30 years, and he's taken dozens of athletes to events across the country. He was inducted into the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

If Don can't help me love running, I may be out of luck.

He tells me about Learn to Run, an eight-week program designed to help people new to the sport complete a five-kilometre run.

Don White has been running for more than 35 years. In that time he has run 45 marathons. This year he turns 70 years old. (George Maratos/CBC)

The first few sessions are mostly walking for 25 minutes..

When I do the first stage I find it quite easy, but learning to run isn't my goal; learning to enjoy it is.

I can't run

In 2016 I took part in the Klondike Road Relay, an event held every September that sees runners cover the 175 kilometres from Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse. The race is spread over 10 legs ranging in distance between nine and 25.6 kilometres.

I signed up because when you live in Yukon you do crazy things like running from Alaska to Yukon overnight in September when the temperature can dip below zero.

I ran the shortest leg — only nine kilometres — but straight up hill the whole way.

I wasn't looking forward to it, and I wasn't excited like everyone around me. All I wanted to do was get this thing over with so I could have a beer.

Throughout the run I was near a team from Alaska, race regulars known for their outlandish costumes. That year they ran in red dresses. The runner on my leg decided to take it a step further and run in red high heels.

I knew this because I heard the 'clickity-clack' of high heels on pavement when he ran by me.

Yes, I lost to a man running in a dress wearing red pumps.

Getting better

I've always been competitive, and if I can't do something well I usually stop doing it. That's why I don't cross-country ski with my wife and friends. My cursing puts a real damper on Sunday morning skis in February.

After a short run with Don he tells me my form actually isn't bad.

I wonder if he's just being nice, but I take the compliment.

Why am I running? Because I still can despite COVID-19. Do I like it? That is still to be determined. (George Maratos/CBC)

He tells me to run with my hips forward so that they're under my shoulders and over top of my feet.

Don also notes I tend to run with a fist whereas I should run with my hands open, but relaxed. He tells me to relax my elbows as well, and he notices I land on the balls of my feet, which apparently is a good thing for runners to do.

When it comes to gear, shoes are the most important. Don advises speaking to an expert at the store and says the "get what you pay for" rule definitely applies to running shoes.

As for other gear, Don says avoid cotton and get a good pair of running shorts and don't wear earbuds or headphones. You need to be able to hear bears and other wildlife on the trail.

Don also tells me not to over-hydrate.

Do I like this?

I've only been running for a few weeks so I can't really say how I feel about running.

Do I love it? No. But I don't hate it either.

I've run on trails and the road, both have their pros and cons.

The trails are pretty and you don't have that 'will this ever end' feeling as much as when you run on the road.

But there are bears and you're more likely to trip on a root as you gaze at lakes, mountains and cute foxes.

I do feel good though and that's something, especially with the state of the world right now.

I've discovered incredible parts of Yukon and I've lived here for nearly 20 years.

I have no desire to run a marathon or crack a four-minute mile though, I just wanted to itch my sports addiction and get moving and so far this has done that.

I think I'm ready to race a man in heels again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

George Maratos

Associate Producer

George Maratos is a reporter and associate producer at CBC Yukon with more than a decade of experience covering the North.

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