Kevin Ramseur and his coworkers at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development are a competitive bunch.
They run the Triangle Run/Walk for Autism 5K every fall to see who is the fastest. And this April, some of them participated in the “Healthy Duke Better Together Virtual 5K,” a remote race organized by LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke’s employee wellness program.
"Completing the race was one of the first times it felt like I accomplished something during the pandemic,” said Ramseur, a clinical research specialist for the Center for Autism and Brain Development. “It reminded me that there are still ways to find victories. You can become faster, stronger and more resilient.”
Jonathan Corbin, senior behavioral researcher for the Duke Center for Advanced Hindsight, said there are two reasons the pandemic is motivating people to accomplish health and fitness goals. People have more flexibility in their schedules to work out; they can use a lunch break or time they would typically be commuting to exercise. Second, the disruption of our routines creates an opportunity to develop new habits, and a workout can provide a bright spot during these trying, uncertain times.
“COVID-19 has halted so many aspects of our life,” Corbin said. “One thing it can’t do is limit our ability to move. People are finding comfort in that.”
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Erin Hull was five weeks into training for the “Tar Heel 10 Miler,” a race that winds through Chapel Hill, when COVID-19 canceled the event.
But Hull kept training for a 10 -mile run, completing practice runs for the remaining five weeks of preparation.
“I wasn’t walking with friends or going to the Y,” Hull said. “In a sense, COVID-19 helped me achieve running 10 miles because it was one of the few things I could do. I concentrated on completing the race.”
Instead of participating in the real race with about 7,500 people on April 18, Hull ran the 10 miles on the American Tobacco Trail while listening to pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen. Hull finished the 10 miles after one hour and 37 minutes.
Running 10 miles was a rare celebratory moment during the pandemic, she said. Hull enjoyed accomplishing her goal so much that she created a new challenge. Her next goal is to beat her high school 5K time of 25 minutes and 30 seconds.
“I can tell I’m getting stronger and becoming a better athlete,” she said. “It’s nice to see improvement after years of just doing the same three-mile run all the time.”
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A little sibling rivalry helped ignite David Berberian’s desire to lose weight.
After spending time with his family last Thanksgiving, Berberian discovered that his brother and sister had collectively lost about 80 pounds in 2019.
“I was like ‘Enough is enough,’” said Berberian, who weighed 293 pounds. “We had all battled weight issues our whole lives. If they could lose weight, so could I.”
Early this year, Berberian was working out nearly every day through a combination of running, circuit training and using the elliptical at Planet Fitness in Durham. He had lost 30 pounds when the pandemic end his trips to the gym in March.
But Berberian kept at it.
He goes for daily two-mile runs at the Eno River or Northern High School. He cut out alcohol and ate fewer chips, pretzels and other snacks. Since March, Berberian has lost an additional 24 pounds, bringing his total weight loss to 54 pounds.
Berberian is keeping up with watching his diet during the pandemic because it gives him a sense of control while COVID-19 forces change day by day.
“All of a sudden, I wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t seeing friends,” Berberian said. “One thing I could still do was move and eat healthily. It was comforting to know I had that aspect of life under control.”
In addition to cardio, Berberian is doing push-ups, squats, planks and burpees with his 15-year-old son once or twice each week.
“I feel light. I feel more energetic. I feel better,” Berberian said. “It’s encouraging to see that I didn’t lose steam when COVID came and disrupted work, home life and everything else.”
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Deb Semmel has been running trails at Brumley Nature Preserve and William B. Umstead State Park since the pandemic hit.
“I love working out on trails because it’s like you’re not even running,” Semmel said. “The surface is softer. It keeps your mind occupied because you have to pay attention to your feet to look out for rocks and roots.”
Semmel is preparing for the Triple Lakes Trail 40K, a nearly 25-mile race, in Greensboro in October. She doesn’t know if the race is going to happen but likes the motivation to run 30 miles each week.
Running is one of the few times each day Semmel is able to take her mind off the virus. She focuses on the path ahead and lets the sound of insects, birds, and her feet hitting the ground fill her mind.
Semmel wakes up around 4:30 a.m. to run during the week, and on weekends, she pushes it to 6 a.m. to run with her friend Hillary Crittenden, a nurse practitioner for Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery.
The early starts ensure Semmel begins her days with a clear mind.
“Running is my happy place,” she said. “You can zone out. You can solve whatever is going through your mind. It’s how I destress. It’s how I feel better.”