As certain coronavirus protocols start to ease and stores reopen, we’re left to do a little risk analysis on our own (i.e., even if the gym reopens, is it worth it for you to go?).
While racing still seems like it won’t return anytime soon, running groups are starting to form again and group outdoor activity is reemerging. But even as restrictions loosen, there’s a lot even experts don’t know. If you are running with a crew — or hoping to start soon — there are several precautions you can take to minimize your risk.
Of course, we know getting outside in nature and into fresh air and sunlight is generally good for you. And moderate exercise can help support a strong immune system, so heading outside for a run can be a good idea. We also know having a run partner or a run crew helps with motivation and this social component plays a big role in why we run. So, while you should still practice certain precautions, if you’re a generally healthy person without any major risk factors for complications from coronavirus, the opportunity to get outside probably outweighs staying inside 24/7.
Before heading out with a running group again, make sure you check local guidelines for group gatherings. In some areas, outdoor restrictions have been lifted significantly, but the guidelines are constantly changing depending on infection rates. Even in places where you can run with a group, that doesn’t mean you should, says Jason Friedman, an emergency medicine physician, exercise physiologist, coach and ultrarunner. “I still wouldn’t run with a larger group. It just gets too hard to maintain an appropriate distance from each other,” he says. He’s comfortable running with one or two people, but notes not everyone should follow his lead: It’s a personal choice.
If you are going to be running in a group, try to find roads and trails that allow you to stay at least six feet apart (preferably running side-by-side, not in a line) and easily dodge other runners and walkers. Your routes may be less fun or interesting as a result, but they’ll be safer for everyone. Wider roads with less traffic are optimal, as is running at off-peak hours, especially when running with a group that will have a tough time distancing while navigating other people using the road. This might make for some early mornings or late night runs if you’re hoping to get out with friends, but the fewer people you can be in contact with over the course of your run, the better.
Check your local restrictions on masks: Some places are still requiring masks to be worn by runners to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If you’re in an area where the choice is yours, you don’t need to wear a mask when you’re running solo in an area without anyone around, but if you’re running in a highly populated area, or you’re running with a group in a high-risk area, donning a mask is a smart move. And, if you are running solo, bring a mask or buff to pull on when you do encounter others on the trail.
“Masks are obviously not to protect you, but to protect those around you,” says Friedman. “I have started carrying a mask with me and just putting it on whenever I’m approaching someone else walking/running/biking on the trail. Again, the risks of transmission in that case are small, but I think it does make people feel more at ease, and communicates the idea that you are being responsible toward those around you.”
Ultimately, what we can and cannot do right now is an extremely nuanced topic that isn’t just impacted by local restrictions, it depends on your personal comfort zone, your health status, the health status of the people you normally run with and those you live with. Dr. Megan Roche, an ultrarunning coach, adds, “I think that this is still highly nuanced and dependent on the exact geographic location and even characteristics of the athlete: old versus young, if someone is immune-compromised, if you’re a healthcare worker, et cetera. There’s no one right answer.”
You may decide you feel comfortable running with a few friends while staying distanced, or you may decide you only feel OK about running with a single running buddy, or you may decide you’re still the most comfortable running solo. Don’t let running be a source of anxiety: Go with your gut on this one.