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Safely Running Outside During Covid-19

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If you’re a runner, you may have asked yourself if it is safe to run outside during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the coronavirus moves through across the world, touching people’s lives as it slowly reaches closer to home, things change.

Stay at Home Orders

Covid 19 and running

Whether your state or area calls it to stay at home or shelter in place, the basic premise is that you stay home unless you are either:

  • An essential worker
  • Going for groceries, pharmaceuticals or something necessary
  • Checking on a family member who is sheltered in place
  • Exercising, walking a dog, etc.

Who Should NOT Run Through This?

If you have any coughing, sore throat or fever, you should not be running right now. Obviously, your symptoms may not have anything to do with COVID-19, but don’t take the chance. Taxing yourself physically when sick can weaken your immune system and that is the last thing any of us needs right now.


social distancing rules

Besides that, health experts are actually encouraging people to get 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise every day.

Social Distancing: In Life and Running

Social distancing does not have to mean complete social isolation. Most of us need to leave home to go to the grocery store. Some people are still going to work. Unless you live in a very secluded place, you will probably encounter people while running.

As health organizations started to urge people to be socially distant, many running groups were quick to respond. The large group runs were no longer advertised in favor of small groups of people where individuals ran in lines, everyone remaining at least 6 feet apart.

social distancing when running
Photo Credit: Pam Berg

Pictured above are runners staying six to eight feet apart on a Saturday of She Runs This Town in Marinette, WI. 

Since the numbers of those testing positive for COVID-19 have increased, people are becoming increasingly wary of being together, even using distancing and even in very small, select groups. People are finding a new normal in solitary running through this time period.

Routine is Good!

Over and over we are hearing from experts that during uncertain times, routine is an excellent coping mechanism. If you normally exercise before work, consider keeping your workout in the morning. If you have been running five days a week, continue to do so. One of the worse for both physical and mental health is to lose consistencies in our lives that help keep us sane and happy.

Fresh Air is Good for Us

Fresh air and sunshine are good for us. Yes, even during a pandemic. There is a reason why people are being encouraged to get outside during this Stay at Home period. Certainly, there are challenges resulting from the pandemic. However, there are many positive aspects to the stay at home policy. It is forcing many people to focus on what is important.

A simple drive through most communities shows an increase in the number of people who have suddenly found outside. The negative to that is many runners are suddenly finding their favorite parks or running trails are very crowded. Before you complain about the dude walking his dog down the park trail try to remember: spending time outside and getting exercise is good for everyone.

Wait… runners don’t own the trails? Well, no. We don’t. I get it, in many areas runners are the only people on the trails or running the parks so we feel like it’s our place. With some simple adjustments, we can all coexist and keep ourselves safe.

running trail
Photo credit: K.J. Regier  – Kansas

For some of us, social distancing is easy based on our geography.

KJ Regier states, “I live in the middle of nowhere Kansas. Locals joke that everything is already socially distanced. Lots of local work is agricultural “essential” jobs that have to keep on going. People gotta eat, right?  I rarely see another person when I do go out, so for me, the whole thing has been a very low impact.”

Remember Distancing

This part can be tricky during the COVID-19 crisis. You need to try to keep yourself a safe distance from others. If you are on a Rec trail or paved path, it might not be wide enough to give yourself an acceptable berth when you either pass or meet someone while running. For this reason, some communities have closed recreation trails, park trails, and other popular running haunts.

Other areas are forced to close running areas not because it is impossible for people to stay away from one another, simply because they are choosing not to. The city governments feel they can’t abide by standing by while people make poor decisions that may result in endangering more locals. If you haven’t visited your favorite trailhead lately, you may head there to find it blocked by a barricade.

If you live right in a city or heavily populated area, you might choose to drive or cycle someplace to run. I know that seems counterproductive: traveling somewhere in order to exercise. However, for those in a heavily populated area where you are bound to encounter dozens of people while trying to complete your workout, this may be a viable option.

running during coronavirus pandemic
Photo credit: Jennifer Campbell

Personally, I find myself seeking out very quiet places to run. Working in a rural school district, I am still heading to work some. The village is very small and I rarely encounter someone else while running. This makes running right after work a great choice for me! Plus, while I am experiencing some cabin fever, it is a scenery change.

Other Safety Tips

If running in a populated area where you might encounter street lights, refrain from touching the “walk” button if you can. If you need to push it, try pushing it with your elbow.

Although it’s tempting to stop and get a drink from the public water fountain in the middle of the park, don’t. It’s just not worth it. As it warms up, consider carrying your own hydration. There’s a reason why self serve coffee and soda stations are closed down in most states. If you empty your water bottle, don’t refill it in a public space.

When you get home, immediately wash your hands.

When You Live With Your Running Buddy!

Tamara & Gene Stephany
Tamara & Gene Stephany

Some people are fortunate enough to have a live in running buddy! Tamara struggled some when her running club stopped meeting. She said that music helped her to stay positive, but it still gets lonely. She adds quickly that her husband is willing to keep her company on some runs, as long as they are short ones.

“He does NOT love running, but will come with because he loves ME!”

Thoughts From Average Joe’s in the Running Community

Elizabeth Carr - Boston 2014
Elizabeth Carr – Boston 2014

Elizabeth Carr of Central Massachusetts has strong feelings about how some people are reacting to COVID-19. Simply put, she feels runners are being irresponsible if they still meet up with their running buddies to hammer out some mile. “People should run alone. Not distanced, alone. The truth is that we still don’t know enough about the transmission and the information is changing by the moment.” She said people may see her as “overabundant in safety,” but can you ever be too careful in life or death situations? Carr would say not. 

Jeff Kile
Jeff Kile

Jeff Kile of NE Pennsylvania –  “We are on a stay at home order by the governor. We are still allowed to go out to run and exercise as long as social distancing is practiced. I feel safe with distancing. The marathon I was helping several of my friends get ready for was officially postponed today. Some of us aren’t handling it very well. We will get through this! We will overcome this and be stronger!”

Angelica Lerro
Angelica Lerro

Angelica Lerro of South New Jersey- “Between construction by my house and every single spot I run at is closed,. I’m stuck running 1 mile out and backs from my house in one direction.” Yet she does it. Over and over again.

The Verdict?

The verdict is out: you can safely run outside during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just follow basic precautions to keep yourself, and those you love and live with, safe.

If you still prefer staying inside the comfort of your home, you might want to check out our guide on the best home gyms available.

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