Doctor-Backed Do’s and Don’ts on Social Distancing For Runners

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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Doctor-Backed Do’s and Don’ts on Social Distancing For Runners

With gyms closed, more people are turning to at-home workouts and running outside to stay fit. Continuing to exercise is incredibly important to mental and physical health, however in a time when we need to be practicing social distancing, running outside can also present certain challenges. (Note: If you’re self-isolating or quarantining outdoor exercise is not allowed.)

Here, we spoke with two doctors about how to continue training and have fun while practicing optimal social distancing.

“For practicing social distance while running, staying at least six feet apart will keep with the CDC recommendations,” Roche says. Lately, experts are advising even double that distance to be extra cautious. As far as trail running is concerned, make sure trails are wide enough to pass people. If you opt for the trails, give lots of warning when passing so runners and hikers can also choose the passing berth they feel most comfortable with. Be aware of your surroundings. When choosing between trails and roads, consider the population: “If trails are congested or you are passing multiple people and are unable to give a wide berth, the roads might be a better option,” Roche adds. Parking lots are a pretty easy way to spread out given that fewer cars are on the road.

“And no hugs or high fives — my usual training partners are big on hugs and fist bumps, but we’re doing foot-fives now,” adds Dr. Jason Friedman, an emergency medicine physician, exercise physiologist, coach and ultrarunner.

Social Distancing

“My recommendation is to avoid running with other people right now unless you are living with them or are already in frequent contact with them — solo running or running with one other person is a good way to go,” says Dr. Megan Roche, a decorated trail runner, longtime run coach and current PhD candidate in epidemiology at Stanford. “This is both for limiting your own exposure to COVID-19, but also out of respect for the running community and world at large since you can be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic for COVID-19, which could cause spread. If you think about the different exposure networks that could form if we all ran interchangeably with a bunch of friends, it has the potential to be a vast point of spread. It’s just not worth it from a public health risk.”

“To me, the most important element after running would be washing hands for at least 20 seconds immediately after,” says Roche. “If you have the option to shower and change/wash clothes that would also be ideal.” (Friedman adds that he’s keeping a small bottle of sanitizer in his car to disinfect his hands as soon as his run is over.)

Social Distancing

It might be time to wear a buff for easier face-shielding and nose-wiping — Roche explains that this won’t protect you from the virus, but it may help you avoid touching your face as often. “While running, I would suggest avoiding touching your face as much as possible and snot rocketing,” Roche says. “After running would be a good time to blow your nose with a tissue and wash your hands immediately after.”

Planning on tackling that super steep technical trail or heading out into the backcountry for a long run? Think again: Try to minimize your accident risk as much as possible. “When planning adventures, it’s also important to think about minimizing risk of accidents or injuries that could divert medical services away from COVID-19 relief,” says Roche. “Athletes should take caution with activities such as high alpine adventures, backcountry skiing, rock climbing or mountain biking depending on their skill and comfort level. We need to prioritize efficiency with our medical resources.”

Social Distancing

In addition to the obvious ‘you shouldn’t run when you’re sick’ element of this, you also run the risk of infecting people you come in contact with, or if you don’t have COVID-19, you’ll freak a lot of people out. “If you are coughing and snotting a lot you probably shouldn’t be running with other people right now anyway,” Friedman says. Just stay home.

Self Isolating or Quarantined? Stay Inside

“Especially if you’re quarantined for a known positive test or a close contact with a known positive, I’d think long and hard about leaving the house, even solo,” says Friedman. “Learn to love your treadmill. If you don’t have one, focus on strength work and core work for a couple of weeks. You might lose a little fitness, but there’s nothing really to train for right now anyway.”

Since the rules and regulations are rapidly changing, it’s always a good idea to check a reliable source such as the CDC website to see what the rules are where you live.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.

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