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An ode to exercising outdoors during a global pandemic

A gym enthusiast discovers the freedom involved in outdoor exercising while the world is in lockdown.

By
Anna Rahmanan
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This week marks one year since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. To mark what we’re calling the Pandemiversary, Time Out is looking back at the past year in cities around the world, and ahead to what the future may hold.

The beginning of lockdown in New York was akin to my spell of postpartum blues less than a year prior. In both instances, I was trapped inside my home, panic-stricken at the thought of a forever changed life and without the ability to enjoy all the great things that our city has to offer. And yet, a mere couple of days into lockdown, one thing became apparent: post-birth melancholy brought along with it my beautiful daughter and the first taste of motherhood. The year 2020, on the other hand, only brought along panic, nausea and anxiety. Could there be a silver lining? Thanks to the outdoors, yes.

A workout enthusiast with a strict four-day-a-week exercise regiment that I’ve hardly slipped away from in the past decade, I had to contend with the total lack of traditional workout options during the shutdown. Gyms were closed for months on end, yoga studios transitioned to online classes and folks who quickly pivoted their routines to at-home ones were able to virtually secure themselves the entire Amazon stock of dumbbells and kettlebells—both of which were sold out for weeks. 

It quickly became apparent that the only realistic way to pump up my endorphins would involve some sort of outdoor exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines that allowed for outings devoid of physical human interaction, also asking Americans to stay away from touching any sort of surface. Running fit the bill and so running I went. 

Trying my best to mimic my pre-pandemic routine, I began waking up at 6am with a purpose (get two miles in today!), tying my sneakers, putting on my GAP sweats and sweater and tying my hair back. With my usual playlist blasting through AirPods (the Smash soundtrack interspersed with the Backstreet Boys’ Black and Blue album and a whole lot of '90s rock) and my mask on, I’d exit my building with renewed joy at the mere smell of fresh air, which, in an apartment with no balcony, is akin to necessary-for-living oxygen.

As my jogging became routine, so did the people I noticed on the daily excursions: my annoying neighbor jumping rope in the driveway, the owner of one of the many adorable homes down the block constantly watering his plants, the two dogs perennially on the porch of the one house nestled inside the park across the street from me and a slew of older women indulging in rather brisk walks first thing in the morning.

Getting acquainted with the area I call home while running involved more than noticing neighbors. I suddenly developed a deeper relationship with my physical surroundings. Having moved out of Manhattan in a rather timely and fortunate coincidence on January 1, I had yet to fully embrace the glory of the suburbs until, well, I was forced to actually spend time here given work-from-home orders. Suddenly, the proximity to greenery and the lack of constant honking (at least in the morning) added to the delight involved in the ability to go running outdoors without having to worry about potentially falling into manholes or bumping into a myriad of tourists. I felt calm. I felt centered. 

Following weeks of neighborhood jogs, I eventually fixed my bike and expanded my geographical horizons while adding cycling to my new schedule. Riding to the outer edges of Queens, my bike brought me face to face with a completely different side of my new New York—one peppered with the diverse crowds and characters that I thought I had left behind in the city. Exercising outdoors became more than an attempt to burn calories and stress: it was a way to experience New York in ways I thought lockdown would forever take away from me.

And now, as gyms re-open and yoga classes consider a potential return to in-person sessions, I still make it a point to at least partly lead my workout routine in the great outdoors. It’s getting warm out, after all.  

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