Exercise and Wellness

Running Safely During COVID-19: Masks, Races, Location and More

A man running on a trail.
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As COVID-19 concerns are still top of mind, runners walk a fine line between getting out to enjoy the sport they love and keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to enjoy running safely, right now.

Whether you’re an experienced runner or just taking up the sport, we hope these pointers encourage you to get outside and enjoy your run safely.

Running Solo

While it may not be your ideal choice to do all your running alone, getting out on your own is probably the simplest way to stay safe. If you’re lucky enough to have another runner in your household, you can also run with them with no additional risk.

Group Running

If you choose to run with others outside of your household, be selective and practice social distancing. Running with a single trusted training partner rather than a larger group can be a good option.

Jeffrey Kuhlman, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Quality and Safety Officer for AdventHealth Orlando, agrees. “When running in an urban environment, don’t run next to someone who is not a household contact as their COVID-19 status is unknown,” Dr. Kuhlman says.

“If you’re running directly behind someone, make sure you are well beyond their slipstream. According to scientific studies from Belgium and the Netherlands, keep at least 15 feet of separation behind when walking and at least 30 feet behind when running.”

Plan to run in areas where you can keep your distance and limit your group size as much as possible. Some groups or running clubs may have larger meetups, which can break into smaller groups based on pacing.

Be Selective: Location and Time of Day

Whether you run alone or in a small group, be selective about where and when you run. While your work and life schedule may define when you can run safely, do your best to avoid peak hours at popular locations. “Another key is to exercise at less popular times of day to decrease interaction with others,” Dr. Kuhlman says.

Getting out early or late can mean better weather and smaller crowds. If your usual route tends to be crowded, use the opportunity to get creative and seek out alternatives.

Exercise in Moderation

Studies have long shown that moderate exercise stimulates immune function, while more extreme exercise or stress can weaken it. But moderate can mean something different for everyone.

As a new runner, moderate may mean 15 miles per week, but someone who has been running steadily for years may easily handle upward of 50. Extremely long or challenging workouts may temporarily lower your ability to fight off infection, so limit these efforts and be extra cautious of potential exposure in the hours or days following your effort.

B.Y.O. and Minimize Contact

Whether you choose to run roads or trails, try to minimize contact with public surfaces to reduce your risk of infection. While there have been varying reports of how long COVID-19 lives on different surfaces, play it safe and touch as little as possible. Bring your own water, so you aren’t reliant on public fountains. Carrying a small, portable bottle of hand sanitizer is always a good idea, too, as is washing your hands, face and clothes when you get back home.

Face Masks and Coverings

Although they can be mildly uncomfortable, facial coverings such as buffs or masks are protective (and respectful) when you run with a group or encounter other runners where it’s hard to distance yourself appropriately. Keeping a buff around your neck or a mask in your pocket can make it accessible when you need it intermittently.

If you’re running alone, far away from others, a face covering is not a necessity. Also, keep in mind that they lose effectiveness when wet and aren’t a substitute for hand-washing, so make sure to follow other common precautions even if you routinely wear a mask.

The Question of Races

While the vast majority of races have been canceled throughout 2020 and beyond, some smaller races are happening in scattered areas. Race directors must comply with state regulations for gathering size, so any race that happens is likely to be small and tightly regulated.

If you’re considering a race, make sure you fully understand their rules and regulations and be prepared to comply. Be sure to consider the potential risks to yourself and others before signing up to decide if an organized event is right for you.

Virtual Races

These races are still taking place, and these are great ways to run safely and feel accomplished. As the Official Medical Provider of runDisney and the Official Health Care Provider of the Track Shack Running Series, we encourage you to try out a virtual race, whether you’re just getting into running or are a seasoned expert. Register for a virtual runDisney race or a Track Shack event this month.

The Mental Aspect of Running During COVID-19

Even though you can continue running safely during the spread of COVID-19, know that it’s perfectly understandable if you have lost motivation due to race cancelations, or simply feel overwhelmed by worry.

Running can be a positive outlet and shouldn’t be a demanding obligation. Even without a race goal on the schedule, you can maintain or build fitness by logging regular easy miles, interspersed with some fun, faster running. Now is also a great time to focus on strength work or cross-training, especially if you have struggled with injury. Most importantly, do what you’re comfortable with and focus on what makes you feel good.

Here to Support You, Every Step of the Way

While the impact of COVID-19 has changed how we approach many aspects of our lives, know that you can find a way to run safely and sensibly. And if you want to get back into running after an injury and need help healing, our Sports Med and Rehab team can help you heal and get back to running strong.

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