Unexpected Benefits of a Pandemic

Prior to March, Oak Street Runner Abeed Jamal, his wife and twin daughters were your typical modern family. Busy, over-scheduled, and often running from one activity to the next.

Then the pandemic hit.

For his twin 16-year-old girls, Mira and Hanna, their regular sports and activities were put on indefinite hold. Life slowed down…a lot. 

At the beginning when everything was closed, Abeed really enjoyed the slower pace. It felt like rest days were allowed again and the family had permission just to simply hang out – no running off to games, no over-scheduling – just longer family dinners, watching shows together and conversation.

However, without sports and activities to keep them occupied, the girls began to get bored and restless.

Abeed, an avid runner averaging about 35 km a week, thought the girls might enjoy running with him. He thought the easiest thing for them to do was throw on a pair of shoes and head out for a run. Without many other options, the girls agreed.

Things started slow.

Abeed would run a quick loop with the girls and then finish off the route by himself. His focus was getting them to enjoy the journey and not be too worried about length or time. After a few weeks, he would then run the first part of his run with one daughter, then pick-up the second one and then finish off any distance he needed.

Before long, the girls were not only keeping pace with Abeed, he was sometimes struggling to keep up.

“I was a little surprised how much they took to it. I thought it might be hard for them to stay motivated since there was no race planned. But they still went out 3x a week and wanted to improve and get better. It was nice to see that motivation can happen in teenagers.” 

Getting fresh air and exercise as a family was great. But the real silver lining for Abeed was the opportunity to connect.

Long runs replaced car-time chats (parents know this as the time kids actually open up and talk about their day). Some days they would talk about running and things that happened at school and some days they wouldn’t talk at all. It became 45min of 1-on-1 time that turned into a time to talk about whatever.

So what advice does he have for motivating others? 

He says being flexible and not going out with an agenda really helped. “You’ve got to give them the control and not try to force it. It will build. Ultimately, they got out just to enjoy it and do something. If I had gone out and told them it’s a 5 min/km pace, no rest, they wouldn’t have lasted long. I let them set the pace. If they wanted to walk, we walked. If they wanted to sprint to the light, I’d chase after as hard as I could.”

As Hanna said, “him not saying anything made us want to do it more. If there was pressure, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it.”

Abeed: “I gave them the freedom to do what works for them, with some company.”

Need some motivation from others? The Oak Street Run Club meets (physically distanced) every Sat morning at Douglas Park.