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To Spit or Not To Spit? Running Etiquette During The Coronavirus

Take any post-apocalyptic wasteland––I am Legend, The Hunger Games, or Fallout––and you have a pretty good picture of Chapel Hill, N.C., these days. With the closure of residence halls and the cancellation of graduation, the town’s student population has up and left, taking refuge at home or enjoying the extra freedom that online classes bring (really, guys?). 

Not everyone lives in a college town, though, so chances are you won’t see the same max exodus. With the heightening restrictions sweeping the world, outside exercise is one of the few things left for people (in most places) to do. Even in a town without its university crowds, I’ve seen more and more people out and about during my morning runs; barring any further bans, I’d expect to see a still-higher number come spring and early summer. 

For most of us, the running part of life at this moment is still very much enjoyable. As such, I want to be explicit in saying this: We are privileged to be able to continue to go outside, and we must respect that privilege.

As most responsible runners know, now is not the time to be going on group runs. It is not the time to be flouting CDC-guidance because “running is your life,” even as you’re willing to put others’ lives at risk. 

*steps down from soapbox*

If you feel healthy, by all means, go outside and go for a run. BUT, should you do so, exercise some common sense and keep others in mind. It might be a slight inconvenience to stop to let others pass or to go without your post-run group coffee, but be grateful you’re still out there putting the rubber to the road. (Just think, it could be worse––you could be a bodybuilder without a gym.)

Elbow Claps and Other Etiquette

So let’s get right to the crux of it: social distancing. Even the most casual of news consumers will recognize these choice buzzwords of the present moment. Governments everywhere are offering self-imposed (but strongly encouraged) isolation as a palatable solution for the spread of viral mayhem. We’ve all heard it time and time again, but in case you’ve already forgotten (as many people seem to), minimize crowd exposure and stay home if you can

Should you need to go out, stay at least 6 feet away from others. Contrary to what the behavior I’ve seen suggests, yes, this does include running. I mean, c’mon everyone, make the effort. Give people generous room when you’re passing, even if that means dirtying those sparkly new kicks. Run in the grass, hurdle that puddle––hell, cross the street if that’s what it takes. Point being: we can do better. It’s inevitable that more people will be out running, in which case it becomes even more important to respect distance.

If that means finding a quiet route or off-hours to do your run, so be it. Treat it as an opportunity to explore; you’ll see new things in different places and at different times of the day. Best of all, you’ll give yourself (and others) peace of mind knowing that you didn’t even have to worry about social distancing.  

Or maybe that means hitting your local trail, assuming it’s still open. Enjoy your time outside as an opportunity to recharge. Just don’t plan on having access to the park’s facilities. 

For those who find themselves encountering others while out on a run, here are some other considerations regarding running etiquette as they apply to Covid-19:

  • If you feel sick, STAY HOME.

I feel like this is an obvious one, but it probably bears repeating. Training through illness does no one any favors––not you and certainly not anyone else. With no races scheduled for the foreseeable future, why risk it? At this point we’re either putting in base miles or running a time trial. Short of those options, I bet you could use the rest. Oh, and running sick won’t ever give you hero status, least of all during a global crisis.

  • Avoid using your hands.

Whether it’s door handles, crosswalk buttons, or stair railings, try your best to minimize what you touch. If you can help it, throw a ‘bow instead. (Have you ever tried biting your elbow? You’ll be safe.) Bonus points if you can make it back without touching anything. 

  • Watch where you spit.

No one needs to track in your germs once they get home. Hold those loogies and snot until it’s clear, and aim for somewhere passerby won’t be likely to pick them up. If you’re practicing safe hygiene, you shouldn’t be touching your nose anyway. 

  • Be proactive about what you’ll need.

Strive for self-sufficiency. Don’t anticipate anything being available to you while you’re out. Whether that’s a bathroom break, water, or a ride home, plan for what you can. (Trust me, the TP in that portajohn was raided days ago. Also, who knows what horrors lie upon that Uber driver’s door handles?)

  • Avoid unnecessary risks.

Hospitals have enough on their plates right now, and an over-ambitious runner is the last thing they need. I know it may be tempting to sprint through that crosswalk or charge down that gnarly descent for the sake of a segment, but those times will be there for another day.

Likewise, even though solo time trials have become the status quo, don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities, whether that’s overcooking the pace or biting off more than you can chew distance-wise. In no way am I suggesting you give up on your dreams, but don’t let them make you a liability. Oh, and I hope most people are doing this already, but if you must run in the road, please wear visible clothing. 

You’ve got a choice: red pill or blue pill. Taking the former means you’ll be diligent in your habits and do your part to minimize transmission. Taking the latter means you’ll ignore the headlines and the warnings, only to someday look back on running outdoors and wish it hadn’t gone the way of businesses, schools, and restaurants. All that to say––you don’t have to be afraid, but you should take experts’ advice seriously. You’re a runner, so get out there and get after it, but use good judgment. 

Other tips or considerations that we missed? Leave a comment below.

1 Comment

  1. Very well said Gray. I commend you. I also live in a college town, Williamsburg and the streets without the William & Mary running squad is pretty bleak. It’s going to be September before anything looks remotely normal again.
    I find that for most of us social distancing is just common sense however there is an older generation for which the term is undefined. I worry about the homeless, the poor and those are just desperate to get by. We are indeed lucky and will live to run another day.

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