Is it okay to run outside?

An image of a runner's legs, wearing red socks with motion W's on them.

(Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

As spring approaches, running season normally comes along with it. Many people sign up for races in the late spring and summer to help challenge themselves while improving their cardio, losing weight, improving their overall fitness, and not to mention, receiving the mental reward any runner will say they get following completing a long run.

But running season has been majorly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak currently sweeping across the United States. As we are all advised to practice social distancing (or “physical distancing”), races have been cancelled for the indefinite future. A major bummer. Our hearts go out to those that have been training to participate in races scheduled in the coming months.

Not all is lost, however. Although we cannot participate in races, running outdoors is still an option. CDC guidelines allow and encourage running as long as runners continue to maintain distancing of roughly 6 feet. And with spring approaching, there’s no better time to use running as a means of getting some outdoor exercise. Below are some helpful safety tips for running during the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • How much should I run? If you are a beginner or are starting to increase the amount that you run, make sure to increase mileage gradually to avoid injury. The general rule of thumb is to only increase weekly mileage in 10% increments. For beginners, we suggest starting with intermittent running and walking 3 times per week for about 20 minutes per run:
    • Week 1: Run for 5 minutes, then walk for 5 minutes and repeat.
    • Week 2: Run for 6 minutes, then walk for 4 minutes and repeat.
    • Week 3: Run for 7 minutes, then walk for 3 minutes and repeat.
    • Once you are running for 20 minutes straight, begin increasing that distance by 10% per week.
  • How can I be safe while running? Although running outdoors is generally safe, there are still some precautions you can take. First, when finished running, consider wiping off the bottoms of your shoes with disinfectant wipes. It is always possible they could be contaminated due to the amount of surfaces they come in contact with. Or, try to leave your shoes somewhere they won’t contaminate other surfaces.  If you need to use a crosswalk signal, make sure to use your elbow instead of your hands. Finally, avoid public drinking fountains and make sure to immediately wash your hands when returning home.
  • Should I wear a mask while running? The CDC currently recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. The biggest thing to remember is to maintain at least 6 feet distance from others. Read more about wearing a mask while exercising outdoors here.
  • What should I do about my allergies? Since spring has just begun, be aware of spring allergies. If you notice yourself getting stuffy and sniffly in the springtime, running outside can exacerbate this if you are not careful. Fortunately, there are steps you can take. Check out these tips for running with allergies from Runner’s World.
  • How can I hold myself accountable? We recommend joining an online running group or challenge to help keep you motivated. If you have been training for a race, or were planning to sign for one, keep training! In fact, if the race is local, such as the Crazylegs Classic, go out and run the course on your own.

During these unprecedented times, mental health is paramount to getting through this. As we are often cooped up all day, running is a great way to exercise and unwind while getting some fresh air. We hope these tips help you get out and run safely. Should an injury arise, don’t hesitate to contact our athletic trainers, Erin and Jerod!