How to Run Outside Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic
Ever since COVID-19 began spreading throughout the U.S. earlier this year, more exercisers have taken up running outside. That’s not surprising: running offers myriad benefits, requires minimal equipment, and can be done nearly anywhere.
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But despite CDC recommendations that encourage outdoor fitness while under stay-at-home measures, the pandemic is still in full force. That means you have to balance running outside with the health and safety of yourself and others. Here are some quick answers to common questions regarding how to get your miles in while still staying protected.
How Long Can Coronavirus Stay in the Air?
This is the main concern when it comes to running outside — whether you might inadvertently run through a microscopic mist of virus particles. Although several epidemiologists have noted that the outdoors pose a lower probability of transmission, they’re not considered a risk-free environment. Some studies have found that the virus may be able to stay in the air for several hours.
Can You Catch COVID by Sweating and Running?
While the virus isn’t transmitted through sweat, you typically breathe faster and harder during exercise, so the force of droplets in your exhalation could travel a distance greater than six feet. If you have COVID, that means someone who runs behind you could be exposed. That’s one of the reasons the CDC and World Health Organization advise maintaining distance from others, even when you’re outdoors.
Can You Run Safely Outside During Coronavirus?
Yes and maybe. The Department of Health and Human Services says running in an open area where you can practice social distancing — the standard is at least six feet from others — is considered safe. But the “maybe” comes in when there are crowds so dense as to make it impossible to get enough distance.
To avoid that scenario, you may need to do more planning, suggests certified running coach and personal trainer Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S. “Building awareness around protective measures can go a long way,” she says. “That begins before you go out for a run, so you’re not trying to adjust as you’re running.”
Should I Run at Night or Early Morning to Avoid Crowds?
One effective way to solve the crowding issue is simply to run at less popular times if you have the schedule flexibility, Thomas advises.
“Especially as things open up with stay-at-home orders lifting… more people are going to be outside,’ she says. “It’s wise to be conscious of that. If you can, consider running outside at non-peak times, like 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., or later in the evening.”
She also suggests exploring new and less-crowded routes if that’s possible. Parks and trails are likely to get packed with fresh-air lovers, but there may be a pedestrian-free neighborhood that’s an equally good option.
Should I Wear a Mask When I’m Running?
Many cities and health authorities have relaxed mask rules when exercising outside, Thomas says. But they do suggest carrying a mask with you so you can wear it when within 30 feet of others.
Thomas and many other runners are solving this issue by wearing bandanas or buffs around their necks, and then pulling them up as they get closer to others. This strategy allows you to cover your face quickly without breaking your stride, then easily lower it again once you’re alone.
Should I Touch Crosswalk Buttons?
Earlier during the virus’ spread, there was greater concern about surface transmission, since a study in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that coronavirus could live on plastic, steel, paper, and other surfaces for hours — sometimes days. Although that’s still technically true, it’s since been argued that the lab conditions under which those findings were made don’t readily transfer to the real world.
But while more recent studies have highlighted that the main mode of transmission is still through the air, it’s still advisable to follow the guidelines that have been in place since the beginning, Thomas says: Avoid touching surfaces with your hands if you can (push that crosswalk button with your elbow instead), and if you do touch anything, try not to touch your face, nose, or eyes. As always, wash your hands as soon as you can and, if possible, carry hand sanitizer for spot decontaminations.
If Gyms Are Reopening Is It Safe to Work Out or Run in One?
In some states, gyms have been allowed to reopen, but it’s still important to do your research on them, advises personal trainer Ramsey Bergeron, C.P.T. He notes that the best approach is still to maintain social distancing — as opposed to shoulder-to-shoulder on the treadmills, for instance — and that you should be aware of what your gym is doing to keep you safe, too.
“Visit the gym’s website, or call the location, to see what policies they have in place for their reopening, and what you need to know before you go in,” he says. Will they have equipment spaced properly? Is there a limit on the number of members allowed at one time? Do you need to wear a mask? All of these are important to know in advance.
“Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine if you feel enough precautions are in place,” he says.
When Should You Not Run Outside?
Whether you’re running on a treadmill or running outside, there’s one very important time to stay put, according to the CDC: If you pose a risk. That means you may have been sick recently, still have symptoms, or have knowingly been exposed to someone with COVID-19. In that case the CDC absolutely recommends self-quarantining for a few weeks.
If that’s not the case, give running outside a try, says Thomas.
“We know running can have positive effects on mood and stress, which is very welcome right now,” she says. “The ability to do your running outside, away from other people, makes it a wonderful and free option for many — if it’s done with a little thought and planning.”