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When a pandemic reduces options for excercising with others, try mounting a challenge you can respond to by yourself!

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - At sunset on Monday, August 2nd, Sara Kirschenbaum was greeted by friends and family (her son Sage is on her right) with a trophy and the crown - as she completed her personal goal of 500 consecutive days of running in Woodstock Park during the coronavirus pandemic.With the resurge of the "Delta Variant", beating the pandemic blues has remained a struggle for many, and a "challenge of the self" for others. Reading, watching movies, gardening, fighting addiction, working, exercising, and much more have kept some people distracted and busy.

But, for one Woodstock resident, jogging through Woodstock Park every day for a year – despite weather conditions, or darkness – became a way of coping, whole posing a contest for herself.

"I was very nervous and anxious about the pandemic," shares Sara Kirschenbaum.

"I was just trying to manage anxiety, and focus on something I could do that wasn't just sitting around worrying. "I have jogged since high school, back in the seventies, in Brooklyn, New York. I typically have run twelve to twenty times a year."

Consequently, choosing to run every single day through wildfire smoke, heat, and winter cold, has been a new experience for her. Wearing a sweatshirt and a cap in the winter, navigating snow and ice, powering through darkness with her supportive wife sometimes driving beside her if it was dark, she ran every day for a year. "I like to run at sunset. I usually set out about fifteen minutes before the sun sets."

She chose Woodstock Park, because she likes the friendliness of people there. "I feel like it is our neighborhood's living room. It seems like everyone is there to exercise, or just get outdoors. We put 'our best foot forward' in Woodstock Park," she remarks.

"I had just completed 365 days of running, and I thought I was done, and would take a break. But I couldn't resist getting back to running on a daily basis, so I started back up with a new goal to run 500 days in a row."

She ran through two and a half pairs of shoes, and didn't let travel stop her. "Whenever I did go on vacation, I would run there. Once I ran half a mile in one airport (JFK) and other half-mile in another (SLC) on the same day! I've never missed a run, despite travel." Both of Sara's adult children join her wife in pride of her accomplishment.

COURTESY OF SARA KIRSCHENBAUM - This hand shape of her path taken between S.E. 47th and 50th Avenues in Woodstock Park is one of several such drawings Sara created of the routes of her 500 evening runs. Using a phone app, she visualized such path drawings on her phone, as she ran. Since Sara is an artist who especially likes to draw, she made an interesting discovery. "Normally I run a square around the park, but I did a few little offshoots, and one day I had the idea that with the 'Map My Walk' app on my phone [which shows where you've walked or run] I could make drawings [on the phone]. Holding the phone out in front of myself while running – it was shockingly difficult – I realized I could challenge both my artistic and my physical self."

As the pandemic ground on, she needed something to uplift her. "When I passed people, I would say something positive, like 'have a good day' or 'nice dog'." When people responded, she says she got a sense of the people in the park being positive, too.

She says the park seemed to draw the goodness out of Woodstock neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, by using the "Map My Walk" app, she used the outline of her route to draw the shapes of a guitar, a face, a hand, a peace symbol, and a heart.

On the evening of August 2nd she completed her latest jogging challenge on its 500th and final day. A festive group of family and friends had gathered in front of her house to welcome and cheer her, as she broke a crepe-paper finish line at her garden gate.


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