Is it safe to go running during the coronavirus pandemic?

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Can I go running, do outdoor yoga or have a picnic with friends? – Apr 22, 2020

The novel coronavirus has forced many Canadians to spend more time indoors, but for avid runners, the thought of missing a run can completely throw off your routine.

Saeed Osman, a personal trainer based in Toronto, is still running during the pandemic, but not as much as he would if he was training for a marathon.

“I was supposed to race (in the) Boston Marathon on April 20 but due to COVID-19 I had to cut back,” he said. “Some people are afraid to run because they don’t want to get ill.”

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Runners during the pandemic are either continuing to run with altered routes or questioning how safe it really is.

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Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, says it is completely safe for Canadians to run outside.

“Breathing in the droplets of others is most likely to happen indoors during close and sustained contact, rather than outside in the wind during fleeting contact that may last for one to two seconds,” he said.

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Furness says if you are running, make sure you practise physical distancing.

“Droplets rarely extend more than about one metre from exhalation by breathing, coughing or sneezing,” he said, adding things could get more complicated with wind.

“Wind will obviously dilute whatever is being exhaled, but it can also carry it further.”

He says there could be confusion about droplets in particular due to suggestions made by researchers recently that droplets can travel farther than previously reported.

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“The bottom line is that direct transmission by inhaling droplets is an indoor transmission problem,” he said. “When outside, the greater danger is touching a contaminated surface: even standing near to someone in a mild breeze, it’s pretty difficult to breathe into their mouths.”

Running in a safe manner

Furness says if you are running outside, there are a few things to consider. For starters, avoid areas where people are walking.

“Not just to respect social distancing, but also to recognize that some people become extremely upset when having runners pass near them,” he said. “We have enough collective stress already, so a bit of mindfulness to keep that distance would be a good thing for all runners to think about.”

Brian Conway, medical director at the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, says runners should always keep two metres apart from other people.

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“The two-metre safety zone is established to cover a distance within which any virus that is present in the air could realistically travel and be transmitted from one person to another,” he said.

Heather Gardner, a New Balance Ambassador who is also a trainer, says her running frequency has remained consistent since the pandemic started, but her route and attire have changed.

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“I’m trying to get out for my runs during times of day that are less busy. So for me that’s around 10 a.m. or 2 p.m.,” she said. “I’ve also started wearing a neck tube (sometimes called a Buff) … part of the area I run in has many seniors [and] want seniors and others in my community to feel safe too.”
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Wearing a mask is not necessary, Conway says, but if you are in busier areas, it may be useful. Furness adds paper masks need to be discarded afterwards (followed by hand washing) and cloth masks need to be boiled (10 minutes is ideal).

“Cloth masks are magnets for bacteria that can then reproduce, and regular laundry won’t solve that.  There are worse things you can inhale than COVID-19: now would be a terrible time to get a bacterial lung infection.”

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But more importantly, Conway says, if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 or feel sick, you should not be running or walking outside.

Always listen to your body

Lindsay Scott is a physiotherapist at The Runner’s Academy and running coach in Toronto and says runners need to rethink how they train.

“There are tons of people going all-in on their run training right now and we’re definitely seeing some injuries as a result,” she said. “Remember that recovery is key, do your mobility work and listen to your body.”

She said many people are running again for the first time.

“With gyms closed, lots of people are turning to running and we’re seeing many runners falling into the ‘too much, too soon’ trap.”

For those runners who may not be feeling inspired to get out, Scott says to take a breather.

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“Build gradually, incorporate mobility work on a daily basis, prioritize recovery, and if you develop pain that persists or you’re unsure about, seek guidance from a clinician specifically trained to manage running-related injuries and assess gait patterns.”

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And like anything, Scott says running is a skill that takes time to perfect.

“Most clinics are currently offering virtual appointments, including gait assessments. Sure, we can’t use any hands-on techniques, but our ability to watch someone move, listen to their story and offer self-management strategies and cues to help them reach their goals is as valuable as ever.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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