I run early (and solo) within Chicago’s city limits, but I still constantly calculate angles and hop curves to maintain 6 feet between myself and each of my fellow athletes, pedestrians, cyclists, and unleashed dogs.
So I’ve masked up: Since official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should wear cloth face coverings when they can’t keep adequate social distance, I’ve been diligently doing it. (Regulations from public health officials here in Illinois also advise face coverings.) I’ve run as far as 13 miles in a mask, so I can assure you, it can be done.
Now, if you run alone in a place where you’re never within 6 feet of anyone—say, a rural road tucked away from a town—a running mask probably isn’t necessary, Ivette Murphy-Aguilu, D.O., a marathoner and infectious disease specialist at AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, tells SELF. But if there’s even a chance that you’d run by someone, it’s your duty as a runner to cover up.
Wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing, but it can provide an extra measure of protection for those around you. That’s because wearing a mask while running can reduce the amount of virus someone may expel through the air in the form of respiratory droplets (like through breathing or coughing), says Gabriela Rosas-Garcia, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with the New York Medical Corps. So when social distancing is not a given—my Chicago streets, New York’s Central Park, where Dr. Rosas-Garcia logs most of her miles, or even your quiet neighborhood where people pop out for a quick dog walk—you definitely should wear a mask. Plus, running in a mask is an important way to show solidarity with your community members—who are also wearing masks and making changes to their daily routines in order to abide by best public health practices.
Running in a mask does feel strange at first, and we should be clear that masking up and heading out the door isn’t equally safe for everyone. For black runners and people of color in general, the dangers of masking up in public are very real.
When it comes to making the actual wearing of the mask more comfortable, there are some factors to take into account that can help. First and foremost, leave the surgical masks and N95 respirators to medical professionals, Dr. Rosas-Garcia says.
What you want is a design that fits snugly and covers your nose and mouth, so that if you’re an asymptomatic carrier—remember, if you actually feel ill and suspect you have COVID-19, you definitely should be isolating at home and contacting your doctor—fewer of your droplets are likely to escape and reach others.
Look for tightly woven fabric. (While the CDC doesn’t specify which kinds of fabric to use, just be aware that fabric like mesh, which has bigger, visible holes, won’t be as protective.) But keep in mind the material can make a big difference in how well you can tolerate the mask on the run. Look for something that’s comfortable, breathable, and won’t disintegrate when it’s soaked in sweat and moisture from your breath, Dr. Murphy-Aguilu says. Many people wear a mask they can tug down when they’re alone and pull back up when they enter more populated areas, so consider a design that allows you to do that easily without touching your face.
It’s also likely these masks will make breathing feel a little more difficult, so expect your pace to be a little slower than usual. “You may have to give yourself some grace during these times and take runs a little easier,” says Dr. Murphy-Aguilu. And if you feel light-headed or out of breath, slow down or stop, and consider if you might want to try a different mask next time.
Here are some running masks you can try. Whatever you choose, wash it—or dispose of it, if it’s not reusable—between uses, Dr. Rosas-Garcia recommends.