Yassine Diboun and Willie McBride share their tips for staying active in a global pandemic.

Social Distancing with Distance Runners

When serious outdoor enthusiasts are suddenly asked to stay (mostly) indoors, you know we’re living in surreal times. So we reached out to Columbia Montrail athletes Yassine Diboun and Willie McBride to see how they’re navigating COVID-19. When they’re not chasing FKTs, the duo coaches individual, group, and corporate clients via their Wy’east Wolfpack fitness firm. We discussed how to stay active while social distancing, why ultramarathons are good training for “shelter-in-place,” and their tips for persevering in a global pandemic.
Close up of Yassine Diboun.
Close up of Willie McBride.
How are you both doing under the current circumstances?

Yassine Diboun: I’m doing pretty well and just trying to be grateful knowing that many people are facing scarier circumstances than I am. A key part of life is always trying to balance everything and with this situation a lot my focus is on mental and physical health, spending time with my family, and continuing to get runs in.

Willie McBride: It’s such a strange new landscape but we’re just trying to embrace it. A lot of the stuff we train for, these crazy endurance activities like running in the mountains, we talk about finding “comfort with discomfort.” And this is a very uncomfortable time so it’s an opportunity to practice what we preach.

It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited for a test of mental toughness than two ultramarathon runners.

WM: The strengths we’ve gained from those experiences definitely help right now. Say you’re running a 100-miler and you’re only at mile 25. You’re exhausted, you’re beaten down, and you can’t possibly think about making it the next 75 miles. But somehow you find a way to get to the end by taking it one step at a time, moment by moment.

What else do you tap into from your running career that can be applied to this moment?

YD: There are times when you’re running an ultra or just in life today where you can go to some dark places. So it’s important to notice that and redirect it. Physical activity for me overlaps with mental, emotional, and spiritual health. So when I get out for my daily run it helps me reflect and process everything better. And in my head I make a list of everything I’m thankful for. I recommend this to the people I coach and it’s a pretty easy and powerful tool.

How are you spending your extra free time?

YD: I busted out my ukulele (laughs) which I’ve just walked past for years without picking up. I also listen to podcasts and watch inspirational movies and running videos. Oh, and we got a puppy. My daughter should get into sales because she knew exactly what to say, and when to say it. She was like “Well, we’re going to be home all day every day, I can train him and take him for walks.” It makes sense, and [Dakoda] is so cute it was hard to say no.

WM: I’ve been doing a lot of drawing and focusing on artwork so that’s been awesome. We’ve been using some of that to come up with little contests on social media for our community. I’ve been doing music therapy and listening to some good tunes. We also have a podcast Get After It PDX and have been talking to people about their own tips for this experience. And then of course like everybody else I’ve been watching Tiger King. Makes everything that’s going on around us seem normal by comparison. WM: (laughs) Exactly. You start thinking this pandemic is no big deal compared to all that crazy stuff.

Makes everything that’s going on around us seem normal by comparison.

WM: (laughs) Exactly. You start thinking this pandemic is no big deal compared to all that crazy stuff.

Has your approach to training changed?

YD: My personal routine is pretty similar but the biggest change has been not connecting with others. Typically I’ll be leading corporate wellness classes, going on group runs, coaching personal clients, plus doing PE and running classes at my daughter’s school. I used to look forward to the runs I could do alone, I would get giddy and enjoy that solitude. Now after a couple of weeks of running by myself I’m kind of like “Man, I want to run with some people.”

WM: I’ve actually been running more than normal. Or at least more just-for-me runs rather than with groups or clients. That’s been nice though social distancing has affected my choice about where to go. I’m trying not to contribute to overcrowded trailheads at popular times.

What are some other tips for people wanting to run responsibly or to get inspiration at home?

YD: I’ve been telling my clients that being active is paramount right now. It’s okay to get outside, get some fresh air, just maintain your distance from people. There are also a lot of workouts you can do in your home or your backyard and a ton of videos you can watch.

WM: Make a schedule. It’s easy to fall into a pattern where days go by if you’re not parsing it out. Definitely put limits on your media intake. And then get out, of course. Being outside is great and still relatively safe if you’re alone or keeping a good distance from people.

Any other advice you’d like to share?

WM: This may be the largest challenge a lot of people will ever face. Now is a time to really examine why you do something like running in the first place. It’s not just about events. What if you never could race again, would you stop running? No, probably not. So reconnecting to why you enjoy it can be a very powerful thing.

YD: Focusing on nutrition is another. Don’t say “Oh screw it, I’m going to eat this whole sleeve of Girl Scout cookies.” Make a smoothie, practice good nutrition, and keep that immune system strong. And then whether it’s yoga or a meditation app or going on a run or eating right, this is the time to focus on what you can do to be ready when the doors open back up. Then it will be “Get out there and get after it!”
Want more outdoors? Connect with @YassineDiboun, @TheWillieGMcBride and @Columbia1938 on Instagram.
Or sprint over to our trail running page.