How to Run Safely During a Period of Social (or Physical) Distancing

A runner wearing men's running shorts while on a trail

5 tips for running through the COVID-19 pandemic

Parks and trail systems are closing rapidly across the country. And race cancelations from well into the summer are beginning to spill into summer. It's becoming increasingly obvious that social distancing is here to stay ... at least for the next 30 days.

So what does that mean for running? It’s not as easy to answer as you might think. That’s because with kids home from school, parents out of work or working from home and spring weather spreading across the nation, public spaces such as parks and trails are becoming increasingly more popular.

And that popularity comes with a cost.

“Last week, people were out in droves because no one was working,” says Lisa Zimmer, co-owner of Fleet Feet Chicago, “There were so many people that even the 31-mile Lakefront path in Chicago was crowded.”

And therefore impossible for residents to social distance.

So, the next day, the mayor of Chicago addressed her city. Zimmer likened the speech to a mother scolding her children about their irresponsible behavior. And then she worked with city officials to close almost all of the parks, the associated parking lots and all of the greenways.

So in light of this, how does one maintain social distance and still run? We talked with several runners, coaches and experts to learn more. Here are our top 5 tips for running responsibly during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Keep Your Distance and Put Others First

This means maintaining several feet from another human, per CDC and WHO guidelines.

And, if you do encounter other walkers, runners or bikers along your route, communicate clearly and take extra effort to pass from a distance.

Zimmer says, “Cross the street if you need to. Do whatever it takes to safely move six to eight feet out of the way of someone passing you.”

“This is the time to do what is essential and avoid what is not,” says Greg Hipp, Executive Director of the Chicago Area Runners Association. “If you are healthy, go for a run. However, running in groups is a risk none of us should be taking for the short term.”

Even if you think you’re staying the required six to eight feet away from your fellow runners, says Hipp, “it could take only one misstep to cause an interaction that results in illness.”

With that in mind, Hipp urges us to lean into the solitude of running during this time.

Run City Street Routes

If your go-to greenway system is closed, consider taking an alternate route. In Chicago, Zimmer says she and other community members are urging runners to “blaze their own paths” by creating unique runs linking some of the city’s over 4,000 streets. “We’re also challenging people to do something creative,” she says. “Spell out your name, or try to draw something with your running route.”

Play it Safe

If you’re running responsibly, you’re running alone (probably the first time we’ve ever said that), unless your housemate, partner or spouse runs with you. So, it’s important to be extra cautious.

“We all have so much anxiety that we aren’t paying attention to where we’re going,” says Zimmer. So take extra steps to look where you’re going, absorb your surroundings and make logical and calculated decisions about your route.

This includes utilizing safety equipment like headlamps and reflectivity vests (if running before sunrise or after sunset), and letting a friend or loved one know where you’re going and for how long you intend to be gone.

Carrying your phone in case you get lost is another safety precaution worth taking.

And Also … Keep Running

“The simple act of running preserves some normalcy in our lives and provides an outlet for our stress,” says Hipp. “We can run, and we should be encouraging more to take up running during this challenging time. Everyone just has to commit to doing it safely.”

What’s more, when part of an overall healthy lifestyle, running can help boost your immune system, too.

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