Hitting the Trails
Running Safely During The Pandemic
As an avid runner for over 30 years, when the shelter-in-place order was released, I did not plan to vary my running routine. However, I quickly learned that the COVID-19 virus plays by its own rules, and life, as I knew it, was going to change. I had to adjust my routine.
I began to take precautions while running in late March and continue now as the city of Shreveport is slowly opening for business. Below are recommendations from health and wellness experts, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for running during a pandemic and the opening-up period we are now undergoing.
America is experiencing a spike in the number of people running for exercise because of the pandemic, according to a recent CNN report. Health studies have shown that mild to moderate running strengthens the immune system, allowing the body to resist viral infection better. Therefore, running, while being well hydrated and rested, is a strategy for protecting ourselves from COVID-19.
Running during when we are shelteringin-place or reopening of the economy can be a safe choice for exercise if we are following a few well-established recommendations from health experts and the CDC. The first recommendation is to run solo and avoid groups. Avoid coming into contact with anyone with whom you do not live. Solo running can be a time to self-reflect and enjoy nature in a new way. Julie Lessiter, an avid runner and tennis player, has found new motivation during the pandemic for running solo to work on her personal best time. Like Lessiter, now might be a good time to challenge yourself to achieve a personal best time for a 5K, 10K or an even longer distance.
If you do run with others, health experts recommend staying six to 12 feet apart. The added distance is due to the broader area of viral spread that can occur while running due to the forceful exhalation during vigorous exercise. Passing other runners quickly and avoiding their draft will also minimize encountering COVID-19 by a potentially infected person. Acquiring an infection is a result of the amount of the virus you come into contact with and the amount of time you are exposed. So, passing another runner quickly while maintaining your distance minimizes your exposure to the virus.
Another tip is to avoid running during peak times when others may choose to run. My routes include the Firecracker 5K route and the Shreveport-Bossier City riverfront paths. By running in the early morning, I usually avoid other runners and walkers. The humidity and temperature are lower than later in the day – a much-appreciated bonus as we enter the Louisiana summer heat.
Do not touch or share water bottles, towels and other gear if you do run with others. Avoid touching traffic light buttons, public water fountains and railings. Avoiding another person’s sweat is also important to minimize exposure to the virus.
Health experts and the CDC recommend wearing face coverings while in public places. The primary purpose of a mask or cloth face covering is to protect others.
Science has shown these coverings to be effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. A mask or cloth face covering may not be necessary, however, if you keep the six to 12 feet distance from other runners. There is no advantage of wearing a mask if you are not encountering others. Besides, masks become less effective if they become moist from sweat or spit.
Of course, running while you are sick with symptoms of an infection such as the coronavirus, influenza or the common cold is not recommended. Running with a lung infection increases the spread of the infection in your lungs, along with increasing recovering time. Plus, running while sick increases your risk of spreading sickness to others.
I would be remiss if I did not mention virtual races. These races are becoming popular and are a great way to keep up your weekly miles. Supporting virtual runs can help keep running clubs and non-profits financially solvent, and often profits are donated to a cause related to the pandemic.
Simply put, running during shelterin-place or while we gradually open our economy can be a safe choice for exercise with a few adjustments to your routine. Safe running!
Dennis R. Wissing, PhD, is the dean of the College of Education and Human Development at LSU Shreveport and a licensed respiratory therapist.