We’ve been told regular exercise is one of the best ways to cope with the stress of the novel coronavirus, but so many forms of exercise — on teams, at the barre or in a gym — are out of the question.
With so many people hitting the pavement, a few questions come to mind, such as: Should you wear a mask when you run? When should you stretch? How do you ward off any potential injuries?
We spoke with experts in airborne disease transmission, doctors who oversee running clinics and coaches who train athletes for races to get advice for those new, or returning, to running.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people maintain at least six feet of distance, about two arms’ lengths, from those around you, but six feet may not be enough, some experts said.
Linsey Marr, a professor at Virginia Tech who studies how viruses travel through the air, told The Post that runners should try to keep 10 feet between them and other runners or walkers, if not more.
“Six feet isn’t some magic boundary beyond which there’s zero risk,” Marr said over the phone. “The farther you are away, the better.”
The World Health Organization reports that the virus that causes covid-19 can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending droplets into the air that eventually fall to the ground. But a growing number of studies suggest that smaller particles containing the virus can remain suspended in air and, in certain environments, travel farther than just six feet. The research is one part of a larger scientific debate about how the novel coronavirus can spread from person to person.
“To me, 10 feet is safer,” said Marr, who’s a runner herself. Marr said 10 feet gives some wiggle room if you need to bend the rule in a tight situation.
There’s a concern that with every labored breath, runners who have the virus release infectious particles into the air around them. If you’re passing someone every minute during a run, Marr recommended wearing a face mask of tightly woven fabric that fits close to your face, such as a layered Buff around your neck.
You’re going to want to also avoid running in a group. And, when you do move past someone in front of you, pass the person quickly, Marr said. Try to give the other person plenty of space. You don’t want to draft behind other runners, taking in the air they’re exhaling.
Of course, your chances of contracting the virus outside are generally “much, much lower” than inside a room with poor ventilation, Marr said. Any breath, cough or sneeze from someone infected with the virus could be scattered by the wind.
“Your risk is going to depend on how much virus you might be exposed to,” Marr said, “so that’s why I’ve been saying don’t linger right in front of or right behind someone else.”
These are anxious times. The moments outside are a way to unwind and unplug from the news of the pandemic. No matter what degree of social distancing you’re comfortable with, others may not feel the same way.
Conroy Zien, a running coach in Maryland, said the last thing he wants is for runners to get a bad reputation by hogging sidewalks and trails. In his eyes, every runner is an ambassador of the sport, and you should pay attention to, say, the parent walking with a stroller.
“Get out of the way. Move out of the way,” Zien said. “Make it obvious that you are allowing them their appropriate social distance.”
Ease back into it
If you’re just getting into running, the most important step is to start slow. Bob Wilder, the director of the University of Virginia’s Runner’s Clinic, said he recommends first-time runners start with a walk-run program, adding more running every week, with one minute of walking and another of running. The key is to not go headfirst into a hard, long-running schedule, Wilder told The Post.
“You don’t want to jump into a training program that one of your friends have been doing for years,” he added.
Zien has been coaching first-time marathon runners since 2012 for the Montgomery County Road Runners, a club based in suburban Maryland. Zien told The Post that the first goal for any runner is to stay healthy and injury-free. Try not to push yourself too hard at the start.
“Don’t go from zero to 100 overnight,” Zien said over the phone, adding that you shouldn’t leap from “the couch to a marathon.” Start with smaller goals (and races). Any injury will only set you back.
Consider that same mantra when you start any run, short or long. Begin with a warm-up walk or jog, and then pick up the pace over time, Wilder said. You don’t need to stretch right before you run, but take some time to stretch your muscles after a workout; even later in the day is fine.