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Running and Social Distancing

Posted on March 26th, 2020 by

We’re all just learning how we should be running while social distancing. At Mornington Chasers we’ve been discussing this a lot with each other on Facebook to figure out how to handle it. This is what we’ve learned.

Etiquette

Laurie, our club welfare officer, tried the experiment of taking a 6 mile walk (always at 2m distance obviously) to observe runner and pedestrian interaction. She forgot her love of running and get into the mindset of someone who walks but doesn’t run. Here are her tips:

1. If you do run, just focus on the pure unadulterated joy of still being allowed outside to do this. Don’t focus on your Garmin or your speed. Approach running like a precious freedom that you might lose if not used correctly
2. Slow down and, also, slowdown. You can also take this tip with an extra pinch of ‘slow down’
3. Even if you know that you’re extremely skilled and nimble at dodging people and crowds, just pretend that you’re not – just seriously slow down or walk as you pass others. Especially people walking in household groups and families.
4. Know that if you are running behind someone who is walking and you’re breathing heavily and the sound of your feet are pounding the pavements, that this will be disconcerting to walkers around you. It doesn’t matter that you are a kind and considerate, they don’t necessarily know this. So, slow down.
5. If you find yourself in an area where you are completely alone and can see far into the distance, then use this to pelt out some speed and sweat. But – don’t do this when you are heading towards corners or where other people are nearby
6. Whenever anyone (seriously, anyone) makes way for you to run, then go out of your way to shout ‘thanks’, wave or just beam your biggest smile at them. You’d be amazed by how reassuring that is to someone who doesn’t run. It will let them know that as runners, we don’t always expect right of way and we are nice people.
Some other tips I’ve heard:
  • Don’t combine running with shopping. Nobody wants to be near you if you are breathing heavily and sweating right now.
  • Don’t running in groups even with people you are isolating with (except for children). You are making it harder for others to pass and no-one but you knows that what you are doing is legitimate.
  • Run at the edge of the pavement to make it clear you’re the one who will give way.
  • Some advice from an epidemiologist in the New York Daily News: “Try not to spit. If you have to, move to a less-traveled part of your route such as off the road in the grass”

Planning

I went for a 16 mile run on Sunday into central London just before the rules were tightened up to see if I could run that far without ever going within 2m of anyone. Even though people were being a bit silly last Sunday, it was perfectly possible to do this, and it should be even easier to avoid going near others now. Here’s my advice on how to plan your run to maxmize social distancing.

Covent Garden on my social distancing run

Covent Garden on my social distancing run

1. Make it a game. Many people will not want you to go within 2m of them, so make sure you never go within 2m of anyone at all. They are the rules of the game. If you have to double back or dart down a side street, do it. If you have to stop or walk, do it.
2. Vary your usual routes. Try running somewhere new that will be unusually quiet. I ran to Covent Garden and it was deserted. The football fields in parks are usually out of bounds because of the footballers, but they are now the perfect place to go for a bit of faster running. On the other hand you can’t run along canals and keep 2m away from people, so they are forbidden. You can’t cross long bridges or run through long tunnels. Avoid high streets, but side streets are empty.
3. Keep on the grass. Paths are for wimps. Be willing to get a bit muddy. If you see a keep off the grass sign, feel free to ignore it. If a parkie chases you, practice one of your sprints.
4. Avoid unnecessary travel to and from your run. As far as possible, it should start and end at your front door.
5. Loos are closed. Know your limits.

Training Racing and Goals

I spoke to our former club coach Tom Craggs who now coaches one of England’s veteran running teams and his advice to his athletes is to see this period of social distancing as the off-season. Training for performance is a cyclic affair where you try to peak for an important race (maybe that’s the Olympics, a marathon, or your club championship). Once that’s over, you give yourself some time to recover and consolidate your gains. It’s a pity that most of us missed out on our big spring races, but it is time to let that go, we did most of the training and got the fitness benefit we wanted anyway, so it’s not such a big loss.

Since it’s now officially the off-season, you can wind down your distance and ease off a bit on the speedwork.  Focus instead on improving in the areas you might let slide a bit during your peak training. Now is a great time to establish a strength and conditioning programme that you can stick to once you start running again. Similarly, this is a superb time to be working on building basic agility, balance and coordination or to work on your flexibility. These are all things you can do at home, maybe with the kids you are having to home school. At Mornington Chasers, we’re planning to have online strength and conditioning sessions together with some dance sessions and pilates to cover all these bases.

As it’s the off-season you wouldn’t normally be racing. We’ve all grown addicted to regular races, especially because of parkrun and quite a few people are coming up with ideas for online races. At the moment, I’d discourage online racing because I haven’t seen anyone figure out a format for an online race which encourages people to stick to the etiquette for running during social distancing. If anyone cracks this problem, I’d love to get involved.

If it’s the off season and you’re not going to be racing, that means you should be avoiding setting yourself inappropriate training goals. Now is not the time to be trying to increase the distance you run. Running for speed is OK to an extent, but you should never compromise on the etiquette. If you are going to be running on the grass carefully dodging other people you won’t be able to be as obsessive about your times. I think the best kind of running goals at the moment are technical ones – for example can you improve your technique with some running drills and by doing regular core workouts?  You can set yourself a fitness goal too, but that could be related to your flexibility, your strength or your coordination. Some good goals you could set yourself would might be to do 50 press ups in a row (or 5, or 500), to touch your toes or to dance the Charleston.

This doesn’t mean you have to forget about running entirely. While we are allowed out, it’s a good idea to keep doing some strides and drills during this period somewhere you won’t get in other people’s way, perhaps on playing fields or down a dead-end. And if you stick to the grass you can still give yourself a decent work out while avoiding others and being easy for others to avoid.

Conclusion

We’ve only been social distancing for a week and half so there’s a lot to learn. In Spain running is currently banned and in France you can’t run more than 1km from your home. We’re incredibly lucky to still be allowed to run, so let’s make sure we keep it that way.