As cities and towns across the country have moved into various phases of re-opening, you might be wondering what this means for group runs or getting together for post-run drinks. Since March, when the world started quarantining and social distancing to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the safest way to run has been to run alone or with a member of your household. But now, we’re transitioning from running solo to figuring out how, and if, you can transition to running safely with others.
Though recommendations will vary depending on where you live, there are some general things to keep in mind when deciding what running safe amidst a pandemic means to you.
All decisions are individual, but it’s important to be aware of how the spread of the virus is progressing in your area and follow local health recommendations. Additionally, we tapped the following experts on what to consider when deciding to run with your training partners—at a safe distance—again.
- David Nieman, Dr.PH., health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus
- Kimberly Powers, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
- Brian Labus, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas
- Patrick Green M.D., UCHealth general cardiologist with special interest in sports cardiology
Where do things stand with Covid-19?
While retailers and non-essential shops are reopening, that doesn’t mean we're out of the woods. There’s no vaccine, no specific treatment for Covid-19, and still many unknowns about the spread and immunity. As of 15 June, the United Kingdom has seen more than 41,000 deaths and over 289,000 confirmed cases. Many countries around the world are still seeing an increase in cases, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University.
Depending on where you live, some types of businesses, such as hairdressers, gyms, and bars are still closed, and places that are open are operating under new safety guidelines.
So, we’re not back to normal yet. That’s why going back to group running as you did pre-coronavirus is still far off.
Is it okay to run with a friend or training partner again?
If you’re running outside, it’s probably okay to meet up with a close friend or training partner that you trust—as long as you remember to spread out and avoid physical contact. And again, you’ll want to check your local health guidelines to see what the current risk is in your area before making this decision. Having conversations with your training partners about how much exposure they may have had to coronavirus or how much time they’ve spent in close proximity to others is important in gauging your risk.
It’s key to be able to trust that training partners will stay home if they aren’t feeling well and that you do the same. Though there’s always risk of being exposed or asymptomatically spreading Covid-19, doing these things can help keep your risk low.
"It should, in theory, be okay as long as you know who you’re with and what they’ve been doing to keep themselves safe," Powers says.
Though spread of coronavirus is a risk any time you are in close proximity to others, when people are close together in confined spaces, that’s when the virus becomes very transmittable, Nieman says. If you’re outside with a few individuals in a zone where the number of cases and community spread is low and you follow basic social-distancing guidelines, risk of spread is lower.
Before you consider running with a partner or small group, ask yourself:
- Are there any restrictions on activities or gatherings in my area?
- Are coronavirus cases in my community increasing or decreasing?
- Is community spread low?
- Am I feeling sick?
- Will those who I’m running with stay home if they’re feeling sick?
- Are we running in an area where we can spread out?
- Are we running in an area where we won’t come in contact with others?
- Have I or my training partners been in close proximity with others for an extended period of time, such as at a bar or restaurant, an office, or club?
- Do I live with anyone who is immunocompromised?
Is it safe to run in groups again?
Right now, it’s still best to run by yourself or maybe with one to three trusted buddies until we get this under control, Nieman says. We all need to be thinking about ways we can reduce the spread of the virus for the ensuing months.
If you deem running with a small group as something you’re comfortable with, you’ll want to ensure that these few people have been careful over the past few months, same as if you’re running with one other person. Additionally, your small group should run somewhere you know you won’t come in close contact with others, Labus says.
And, you’ll still want to stay far apart and run with a mask whenever possible. Being outside can help mitigate some of the risk of the virus spreading, and while we still don’t have a firm grasp on what distance apart you need to be, to stay safe, at least six feet apart has been the recommendation, Powers says.
How big of a group should you run with?
Right now, Nieman suggests running with one to three other people at this stage. This will ensure you can keep a distance between you and any one else you may encounter.
"The smaller the group, the better," Labus says. "You also need to consider where you will be running to ensure that your group can stay away from others. It will be much harder to socially distance if you have a large group and are running in a popular area."
Are there any risks of running in groups?
While there has been some recent confusion about the spread of the virus, the WHO recently said in a live session that asymptomatic spread is still a concern. This means you may be able to spread the virus to others without knowing you have it, and others may be able to spread it to you.
Additionally, it’s still unknown when pre-symptomatic (the time before you start to show symptoms of the virus) spread can occur, so it’s best to continue social-distancing practices, hand washing, and wearing a mask when you are in situations that social distancing will be difficult.
It’s still safe to run outside, but should I keep anything in mind?
The first thing to consider before participating in any exercise right now is whether or not you are feeling well, Green says.
"If one has symptoms suggestive of Covid, they should not exercise for two reasons," Green says. “First, to obviously not spread the virus, but also to avoid myocarditis [inflammation of the heart]. A viral illness (several viruses, including coronavirus) can cause myocardial inflammation and damage the heart muscle. This is made worse by exercise."
If you are feeling well, however, moderate exercise can be beneficial to your immune system, as long as you are safe while doing it, Nieman says.
You also need to consider how many other people you might encounter, Powers explains. Running in a rural, open environment is very different to running in a concentrated, urban area. You should be able to run outside safely if you don’t come into contact with others.
And, as we move more into summer and many indoor establishments remain closed, more and more people will be sharing popular outdoor public spaces. As you likely have done since the start of the pandemic, you might need to alter your route or run at different times to avoid crowded areas or trails, Labus suggests.
Finally, consider if you are putting others at risk. For example, if you or someone else in your house is immunocompromised or vulnerable and you’re looking for a zero-risk way to exercise, or you’re worried you may have been exposed to the virus and could potentially spread it but aren’t feeling sick, working out at home is best. You can try at-home workouts like this core workout or this strength workout. Or, if you have your own treadmill, you can log miles that way or try these workouts.
Should you wear a mask?
In the past, you likely ran pretty close to your training partners, talked or breathed heavily. These are all ways that the droplets that carry the virus can spread, so you have to be careful, says Nieman. This means continued distancing as well as wearing a mask whenever necessary.
"Wearing a mask and spreading out is the smartest thing to do until we get this under control," says Nieman.
But if you decide not to wear a mask and are still running with another person, you’ll want to be sure you both have been careful and vigilant and are in an area where the two of you can stay spread out from others to avoid possible spread, says Powers.
And, while you might decide to not wear a mask while you run, you still need to bring one with you in case of an emergency that will put you in close contact with someone else (such as a sprained ankle) or an unexpected event (such as popping into a store to buy a drink as most places of business require a mask), Labus says.
In general, if you are in a situation where you won’t be able to distance yourselves, wearing a mask to help protect others is recommended. See the WHO’s guidance on wearing a mask for more information.
What are some things you need to consider before meeting up with a group?
The more people you’re around, the greater the risk you could be exposed or asymptomatically spread the virus.
You’ll want to think about what others have been doing to be safe, and that you’re able to trust the people you’re running with are also taking the threat of infection seriously by staying home as much as they can, wearing masks when not home, and will be upfront with you if someone in their family has been sick or if they’re not feeling well, Powers says.
Again, follow logical guidelines: don’t high five, do not share water bottles, drive in separate cars to your running location, and avoid hanging around chatting in close proximity in one place (or have a mask handy if you’re doing some socially distanced talking afterward).
If you live with someone who is immunocompromised, is it safe to run in a group?
"Any time we go in public, we not only put ourselves at risk, but we bring that risk home to the people we live with," Labus says.
If you live with someone who is immunocompromised (has a weakened immune system due to conditions such as cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplants, HIV, or taking certain medications), is of advanced age (65 or older), or is at higher risk for severe complications from infection, you should take that into account when making your decisions. It is safer to run solo until disease transmission is low in your community, Labus says.
Are there any other risks to consider?
Overall, running on crowded routes or trails right now is not ideal, Nieman says. You’ll also want to be sure you go to the bathroom at home to avoid using public restrooms when you’re out—assuming they are even open.
Concerns with an open public restroom should be obvious at this point—there could be someone sneezing or coughing into their hands near you or on surfaces in the restroom, which likely does not get a thorough cleaning after each use and has poor ventilation. (While it’s not exactly known how long droplets stay in one area, studies have found that the virus has higher odds of transmission in closed indoor spaces.)
Overall as temperatures heat up, you’ll want to be sure you’re properly hydrated and carry your own water if you plan to be out for a long time so you can avoid using any working public drinking fountains.
Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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