Ben Kaplan was running near his home in Toronto when a man began yelling at him.
“He shouted at me, ‘Distance! Distance!’” Kaplan says. The message was loud and clear – he shouldn’t be running near anyone.
As a frequent runner and the general manager of iRun Magazine, Kaplan is very aware of the side-eye runners have been getting on the streets across Canada and the criticism that’s being levelled at them on social media from those who believe runners pose a risk of spreading the coronavirus with their huffing and puffing.
“I know that it’s happening, and I definitely want to encourage everyone to do what they can, because I really couldn’t imagine getting through this without running outside,” he says. “I’ve definitely adjusted my behaviour.”
With most people isolating indoors, many people rely on running to relieve stress and keep physically active. But in order to keep others safe from the spread of COVID-19, they should stay farther than two metres away from other people, as recent research suggests, says Jack Taunton, medical director of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Anyone who has been irritated by a runner getting too close to them has every right to be angry, the doctor says.
“If you’ve got runners who come right up behind you, then that is a health risk,” he says.
Taunton points to a Belgian and Dutch study, released last month, that examined how far respiratory droplets from the mouths of walkers, runners and cyclists travel.
Using a computational fluid-dynamics model, researchers concluded that runners and cyclists should maintain a distance of at least 10 metres when moving in a straight line, because anyone behind them could be exposed to their fluids within that distance.
It is important to note that the study, by researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology and KU Leuven, has not been peer-reviewed and has been heavily criticized since its release.
In order to be respectful and err on the side of caution, runners should stay at least a few metres away from others, Taunton says.
Anyone who may be infected with the coronavirus, even though they are asymptomatic, or may have been exposed to it, should wear a mask while they are running, Taunton adds.
But he understands why runners need to get out, particularly at a time like this, he says. For one, running is a great way to relieve stress. It is a good way to help keep your immune system strong. And for people otherwise stuck at home, it is a great way of fighting cabin fever.
‘You can’t be sitting on the couch the whole time,” says Frank Stebner, president of the Lions Gate Road Runners Club in Vancouver.
In order to enjoy running’s benefits while being socially responsible, Stebner suggests minimizing contact with others by running early in the morning and later in the evening, as well as avoiding busy streets where you are likely to encounter pedestrians.
Kaplan, for his part, has adjusted his running to avoid busy streets and keep his encounters with others to an absolute minimum. “I stay way out of the way,” he says.
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