Running Responsibly: How to Keep Your Distance and Stay Safe on Your Next Run

I had just, and I mean just, gotten over an injury when the coronavirus outbreak shut down my city; I had my last doctor's appointment about five days before our shelter-in-place order went into effect. In some ways, I'm sure all the staying at home has been good for my injured foot: if the gym had been open, I would've gone straight back to my intense routine. Instead, I had to ease back in with low-impact workouts, which are basically all I can do in my apartment. But after a couple weeks of being shut inside, barely even leaving for walks or errands, I started getting that ache for a long, mind-clearing run, the kind I hadn't had for months.

My first run was a nerve-racking experience. For one thing, I was terrified my injury would flare up, but more pressingly, I wasn't sure how I'd keep my distance from other pedestrians. I live in a suburban-ish area with wide sidewalks and streets, but my neighborhood has lots of families who like to hang out in the yard, take walks, go on bike rides, and play basketball in the driveway. My favorite route, a bayside loop through a county park, was closed, so I'd be running past homes and pedestrians the entire time. This was also around the time the CDC began recommending the use of cloth face masks when out in public, further complicating matters. I debated wearing a face mask while running, knowing it would likely be hard to breathe if I did (and that my lungs were already out of shape from four months of no cardio).

I ended up tucking the face mask in my leggings pocket and doing lots of creative street-crossing to maintain my distance, but I finished up that run feeling good about the precautions I'd taken. I've run every weekend since and developed a few go-to strategies to stay safe on my social-distanced runs, based on doctor recommendations.

How I Social Distance on My Runs

  • I choose less-crowded routes. My local park is partially reopening, but I'm planning to steer clear for a while because I expect it to get crowded. I've created a few new routes down wide streets that typically have fewer people and cars, which makes it easier to keep my distance, even though it's meant changing up my usual routine.
  • I run early in the day. Similarly, I know my neighborhood gets more crowded later in the day, so I've been running early-ish on Sunday mornings when the sidewalks are emptier.
  • I bring a cloth face mask. I haven't had to actually wear my face mask while running (yet), but tucking it into my pocket gives me a sense of security. If I somehow ended up in a crowded area, I could slip it on for extra safety. My county also requires a face mask in parks and when more than five miles away from home; I'd recommend checking your local guidelines for a similar mandate, just to be safe.
  • I try to stay aware of my surroundings. This is a good general safety tip for all runners, but I've tried to stay extra alert on my recent runs, always looking around for pedestrians, cyclists, and people hanging out in yards or driveways.
  • I cross the street when passing other pedestrians. Though six feet is the recommended distance, for my own peace of mind, I like to stay farther away from others when I can, which means crossing the street when I'm coming up on other pedestrians. If this isn't possible, or if both sidewalks are taken up, I'll run in the street against the flow of traffic (so I can see cars coming at me). If neither option is available, I try to give as much distance as I can and pass as quickly as possible, as a doctor recommended to POPSUGAR in a previous interview.
  • I wash my hands and wipe down my gear when I get home. The first thing I do when I walk in the door from my run is wash my hands. The second thing I do is clean my headphones, my phone, and my key with disinfecting wipes. Though a doctor has told me that disinfecting items this way is probably unnecessary, I'm opting for the better-safe-than-sorry route. It's easy, and it makes me feel better to do it.

It's not actually that complicated — the best way to stay six feet away is to stay six feet away — but having a plan when I step out the door has helped me feel safer and more relaxed on my runs. I know everyone I see on the sidewalk has the same concerns, so when I get annoyed at having to cross the street again or turn down a different road to avoid people, I remind myself that we're all on the same team and we all have the same goal: to keep ourselves and each other safe.