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Is This Astrological Occurrence the Reason Your Workouts Feel Off?

Runner’s World logo Runner’s World 11/16/2018 Hailey Middlebrook

a woman sitting on a bench: Astrology expert Leslie McGuirk explains what Mercury retrograde is and how runners can use this time to be mindful of their movements, emotions, and relationships. © Dirima - Getty Images Astrology expert Leslie McGuirk explains what Mercury retrograde is and how runners can use this time to be mindful of their movements, emotions, and relationships. Runners tend to be varying degrees of control freaks. We wear lucky socks on race day, eat the same breakfast every morning, obsessively track the weather, and run circles around the parking lot until our GPS watches finally notify us that our final mile is finished.

So when the universe throws a wrench in our routines during Mercury retrograde-which is happening this November 17 through December 6-we want to be primed and ready to take it in stride.

Unless you’re an astrology buff, you may have no idea what “Mercury retrograde” is all about. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a celestial phenomenon when Mercury appears to be retrograding, or moving backward, in the sky as it orbits around the Earth. In reality, Mercury is simply moving at a different speed than our planet, which creates the illusion that it’s reversing in the same way a car seems to be moving backward when you pass it on the highway.

In Roman mythology, Mercury (also known as Hermes), is the messenger god, often depicted wearing winged sandals to transport communications in the heavens. Those big into astrology believe the planet Mercury helps control similar things like communication, travel, and technology. During a Mercury retrograde period-which happens three or four times a year for about three weeks each time-miscommunication is said to become rampant, which can cause drama and confusion within work, relationships, and activities, according to astrology expert Leslie McGuirk.

In McGuirk’s book, The Power of Mercury, she dives into what the phenomenon is and how it affects individuals based on their birthdays. Some 20 percent of the population were born during a Mercury retrograde, which means they actually function normally during these periods, but they may have a tough time communicating with others who are feeling its effects. 

“Most people will feel a bit foggy and off during retrograde,” McGuirk told Runner’s World. Arguments with friends and bosses, lost emails, delayed flights, and missed meetings might be more common this time of year, she said.

For runners, Mercury retrograde might instill a sense of imbalance or frustration with training. If you workout with friends or a team, you might find yourself butting heads more than usual with your coach or your training partners.

But before you burn any bridges, McGuirk offers these tips for making the best out of any period of Mercury retrograde.

Take Time to Reflect

During retrograde, McGuirk encourages runners to imagine putting themselves in reverse.

“Pretend you’re a car, and back yourself up,” she said. “This is a great time to practice of the ‘re-’ verbs, such as reflect, recuperate, revitalize. When you redo something, you’re doing it again in a deeper, more meaningful way.”

If you’re feeling stuck in a training rut or are burned out by the fall marathon season, Mercury retrograde is an opportunity to listen to your body and reorient your goals. Maybe that means easing off intense workouts and instead running slower, longer routes that allow your mind to wander and reflect. For fall marathoners who have lingering aches and twinges from their races, perhaps it’s wise to take a break from running completely during this time, so that they’re able to fully recharge before spring training begins.

Even runners for whom training is going smoothly-plus all of those who are racing Turkey Trots on Thanksgiving-could benefit from a bit of self-assessment during this period. McGuirk advised thinking of retrograde like a seasonal check-in with yourself. How is your body feeling? Have you taken care of that nagging injury? Are there ways you can lower your stress levels and make yourself happier?

It might be something as simple as thanking your muscles and bones for allowing you to run.

“Our legs and feet are incredible for enduring all that pounding,” McGuirk said. “Remember to be grateful for them.”

Run in Reverse

Keeping with the theme of retrograding, McGuirk recommended switching up your normal running routine by going in the opposite direction.

“If you always run the exact same route, it’s time to break the pattern and go the other way,” she said. Running in a different direction than usual allows you to see the path with fresh eyes, and it may challenge you in ways your normal route doesn’t. This could be beneficial for those feeling frustrated with their progress during this time.

If you want to go one step further, McGuirk suggests even running backward for a bit. Backward running (also known as “retro-running”) can actually help rehab injuries, boost weakened muscles, and improve athletic endurance, as Runner’s World columnist Jenny Hadfield has written about in the past. Runners with knee injuries may especially benefit from a quick reverse jog, as the exercise encourages hip mobility, better posture, and more activated quadriceps and calves, but doesn’t put as much pressure on the knees as forward running.

Respond Rather Than React

Interrupted communication during Mercury retrograde can cause tensions to raise, McGuirk said. For example, a delayed flight causes you to miss your race, which makes you sulky at Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe you and your coach aren’t seeing eye to eye on your training goals for the coming season-and neither of you are budging. During these out-of-your-hands moments, it’s best to reign in your immediate reactions, McGuirk said.

“Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, consider what you’re thinking,” McGuirk said. “You have to slow down and respond, rather than react. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly. Everything’s a little funky.”

Bottom Line

Mercury retrograde isn’t doomsday by any means, but it is a great opportunity to slow down and be more mindful of your movements, emotions, and relationships. In our constantly-moving environments, it can be useful to let go of control, take a step (or a few) backward, and reorient ourselves for success in the long run.

As McGuirk said, “This is the perfect time to balance yourself out.”

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