After a full year of pandemic restrictions, many events are still impacted by important safety requirements. For runners, this has meant a year of changes in their training and race events. Michael Capiraso, former CEO of New York Road Runners (NYRR) and a part of the running world for nearly three decades, has some important advice for runners looking to stay safe as they keep fit.
Why Run During a Pandemic?
"I find that going for a run is one of the things that gets my mind going and helps me be more productive throughout the day," says Michael Capiraso. "Running clears my head in some ways, but also generates a lot of great ideas and creativity."
And this isn't just personal experience, his perspective on running is backed by plenty of science.
Running regularly allows the brain to produce endorphins, which feels good (runner's high). Running also reduces stress and alleviates anxiety by clearing toxins from your bloodstream that are caused by stress. Similar to meditation, the brain focuses on the present during running-providing the psychological benefits of practicing mindfulness.
Running also provides mental benefits well after the event is over. One study looked at the brain structure and activity of runners compared to comparable non-runners when the brain was at rest. The researchers found runner's brains had better working memory function, lessened mind wandering (the "default mode network"), improved cognition, and flexible thinking.
"Don't underestimate the effect physical activity can have on a healthy brain," says Capiraso. "Being physically healthy always helps with your mental capabilities."
The pandemic has caused a lot of people to stay home more than they normally would. With fewer social events and activities, people have had to make a more concerted effort to get in exercise and find creative ways to connect with others. Running is one activity that offers an escape from the heightened stress caused by the pandemic.
"We have a lot of people who are getting into running for the first time," says Capiraso.
Several things are different about running during a pandemic. Capiraso wants runners to stay safe as they train.
How to Stay Safe When Running During COVID
Without proper training, runners can suffer from shin splints, fractures, sprains, and overuse injuries. With COVID-19 still spreading, runners could also face additional risks without following health safety protocols. Capiraso has several recommendations for runners to stay safe while training during the pandemic.
1. Start Slow
If you are new to running, you will want to ramp up gradually. During a pandemic, Capiraso notes it is especially important not to stress the body by pushing too hard too early. He recommends runners watch their minutes more than their miles to find a comfortable pace that doesn't cause too much strain.
Runners (even the seasoned ones) should take days off, supplementing with yoga or weight training to help keep stress levels low..
2. Get the Right Equipment
The right equipment is crucial for comfortable and safe running. The right shoes, for example, will provide proper support and alignment. And, with the pandemic, a mask is a new piece of equipment that is needed for a safe run if you are leaving the house.
"Grab your sneakers, grab your face covering," says Capiraso. "It's an extra piece of equipment to go out and run with. But, for the greater good, it's really important."
The best face masks for runners are going to be specially made for athletes to use during workouts. Athletic face masks reduce the spread of respiratory droplets while you run, so you are less likely to spread germs to other runners or bystanders. But they're also built to withstand the stress of the activities you will be performing.
3. Stay Socially Distant
While running outside, it is important to practice social distancing. Research has shown that these respiratory droplets travel further for runners while they are working out than for the average person, making it especially important to be mindful.
Along with wearing a mask, some experts are recommending runners stay at least 15 feet away from anyone else along the route. It's especially important not to run too closely behind someone or cut someone off in front. Droplets have been found to trail behind more than spread to the sides or in front of the runner. Staying at least 10 feet away from people during a brisk walk is recommended as well.
Most large race and marathon coordinators are opting for virtual events because it would be too hard to keep runners spaced out. Capiraso says this is a great way for runners to stay in shape while their in-person events aren't happening. But for training, runners can avoid crowded paths and give space to other runners.
4. Join Running Groups
"People like to run, and they like to talk about running," says Capiraso. To keep running fun and engaging, it's a good idea to find a supportive outlet. The pandemic has made it easy to feel isolated and many new runners are appreciating the social/digital connection aspect of virtual racing.
He recommends joining running groups and using workout apps to stay motivated. While in-person races and workout classes used to help spur on runners, we have to find new ways to connect at the moment. Most of these virtual circles are not new, but there has been an onslaught of runners seeking out camaraderie online with stay-at-home orders in place and events canceled. Runners are also connecting with other runners through platforms such as joggingbuddy.com.
5. Pick a New Route
Running a new route can help an outdoor running experience. Running to a friend's house, for example, is one-way Capiraso says people can choose a fun destination without running a popular path. He recommends a socially distanced visit with the friend through the window upon arrival.
Another option, Capiraso says, is to choose a fun public landmark as a goal destination. "Go see a landmark, go see a site that you want to see," Capiraso recommends. "Do it safely and with a face covering, but get creative with your running route"
6. Consider Virtual
"The way that we are all connected digitally continues to excite me, says Capiraso. "I know that makes most people think of social media, but there are so many digital platforms, like running, exercise and other activity apps to connect people."
For many races, the events are now held through virtual platforms. This makes it even easier for runners who might not otherwise be able to attend the race in person. Runners are given a certain period to complete and log their miles for the race, making it easier to fit races into their schedules and safely be a part of an event.
"I love how you could be connected with people all over the world, who have common interests and are sharing related content, remarks Capiraso. "I'm very excited about digital platforms and their potential for the future, and how they have already have brought communities together. I think of the world as a global community now, and you could be as connected to someone in Austin, Texas, or Italy or India, as you are in New York City."
7. Just Get Started
Whether you choose to start running or pick another physical activity, the goal is to build up strength and stamina. But, sometimes, the hardest step is the first one. Putting yourself out there can feel like a big step for a first-time runner to overcome.
But, without enough physical activity in a week, the body gets weak and stress levels increase. Michael Capiraso explains exercise at any level is important. So, even starting with a slower pace or less intensive regimen is better than living a sedentary lifestyle.
"I think exercise, regardless of what it is, whether it's walking or running, or taking a class is so important," notes Capiraso. "Getting your body engaged in movement is so vital, because I think the movement helps overall with your physical and mental health."
About Michael Capiraso
Michael Capiraso is the former President and CEO of the New York Road Runners (NYRR). Under the leadership of Capiraso, participants doubled to around 700,000 people joining NYRR events, youth and community programming.
Michael Capiraso himself has participated in 28 consecutive New York City Marathons and has personally raised over $100k in funds for the NYRR's Team for Kids. Before NYRR, Michael Capiraso Was Chief Marketing Officer at Cole Haan, and led large-scale operational and brand building efforts at the NFL, Major League Baseball, and Calvin Klein.