Social distancing and running outdoors- my anecdotal tips

In light of the current global COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government has put in place strict measures limiting many aspects of daily life, including the time we spend outdoors, the people we see, the space we give each other and the ways in which we exercise, shop, work and travel. This is to help prevent the spread of coronavirus otherwise known as COVID-19. The current UK advice is to STAY HOME and to only go outdoors when necessary such as shopping for essentials, or participating in ONE form of exercise per day, either on your own or with members of your immediate household. It is important that we ALL follow this guidance. We all have a collective part to play in helping prevent the further spread of COVID-19, supporting our National Health Service and those who work within it and protecting ourselves, our families, our neighbours and vulnerable members of our wider community.

This blog post is written to provide some anecdotal non- expert tips regarding social distancing when participating in your ONE exercise per day. For this, I will focus on running, because at this moment in time I have made the decision to curtail my time out on my bike- if I was to fall off and sustain a serious injury I would be adding to the current stress the NHS is under. All discussion is relevant to the current state of play in the UK at the time of publish on the 1 April at 7pm. Please continue to check the government advice and stay abreast of any changes, practice safe and sensible exercise, only when you are well enough to do so, and use your common sense. Please also refer to the guidance regarding exercising if someone in your household is displaying symptoms.

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Social distancing is the term linked to the physical distancing we need to observe in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The guidance clearly states that we must maintain a distance of at least 2metres, this includes during exercise. For runners it is appropriate to maximise this distance as much as possible as we tend to breathe heavier during exercise.

But what does 2m look like? It is about 3 steps, the length of a person holding a broom with outstretched arms or as some sources suggest- a hospital bed. If you are unsure it is better to give the maximum amount of space possible. The BBC have put together a great little video on what 2m looks like.

Be prepared to deviate/ be flexible with your route if you need to– 2m is often wider than a lot of pavements in the UK so be prepared to deviate during your run. Respect the space of others and be prepared to cross the road where it is safe to do so, turn around, stop to give way or walk until the pavement clears out. Remember you’re moving a lot faster than others and people walking towards you won’t always be able to gauge your speed as you approach. Therefore the responsibility to give space falls predominantly on you, don’t expect everyone to magically move out of your way. If you can see the route ahead is extremely busy, change course or turn back and select another route. Don’t just plough on through, I know this can be annoying but we’re all in this together and we all need to try our best- just think of it as extra metres to your strava totals.

Pick your side– in order to maximise space pick a side of the pavement or path you’re running on. Based on what I’ve encountered when out and about people tend to stick to the left, just like if we were driving our cars. What isn’t helpful is running or walking down the middle of a wide path, this quickly makes a lovely wide pavement just half the size. So pick your side, this might have to change from time to time, just keep over as far as possible. If you’re running on paths shared by cyclists always look behind you before moving across the path to avoid any crashes. If you find yourself running along roads and it is possible to do so select the side of the road that means you’re on the pavement running towards the oncoming traffic. This means if you do need to deviate temporarily into the road to give other pavement users space you can judge this safely based on having a clear view of the road ahead. You can also use grass verges in a similar way, although only dart onto these for as little time as possible to avoid causing any damage to the fauna.

Streamline your formation- If you’re exercising side by side with someone from your household (that’s the only person you should be exercising with right now), move to running/walking one behind the other whilst passing others- again this helps maximise space.

Think of it like a driving test– remember that super annoying hazard perception test lots of us had to do when taking our driving test theory (am I showing my age now?!) where we had to click rapidly for hazards and I almost failed because I clicked 12 times for a virtual cartoon dog? Think of social distancing in that way. Rather than looking at your feet, keep looking up and looking ahead. Gauge what is ahead of you, acknowledge where others are, where others might come from or areas that might be congested and keep planning in your head potential route deviations. It actually helps pass the time during your run too.

Pick a route based on wide paths, places you know aren’t usually busy and avoiding key locations like shop entrances. I’ve ended up running the same route pretty much every day because I know it is wide, I know where bottlenecks are and I feel I have plenty of turnback options if I need to use them. This helps manage my anxiety when I am out but also helps me feel safe when solo running as my partner knows my route. If you find your route is really congested it is time to mix things up and sample somewhere new.

Use your voice- especially if you’re approaching people from behind. Whilst you might be tutting away that people are taking up the pavement, members of the public don’t have eyes in the back their heads and many could have headphones in. Shout excuse me very politely, after all you don’t want to startle them or just charge past not giving them space. I encountered this yesterday and the lady thanked me for respecting her space. You will encounter people who simply don’t move or don’t hear you and its then up to use to use your judgement, hang back until there is a chance to pass them or cross the road.

Utilise the weather to your advantage- I’ve found that pavements tend to be quieter during bad weather. If the thought of running on a beautiful sunny afternoon sounds super appealing, the chances are everyone feels the same and it is likely to be busy out. I’ve been using the weather to my advantage. I check the forecast the night before and look for periods of cloud, rain or wind and head out in these (I have a trusty rain coat and quite like the rain). You’ll find it is quieter, but also it means you aren’t adding to the congestion during the nicer weather. I had a glorious run in the rain on Sunday and didn’t see another person.

Run solo or with your household- this is a no brainer because it is what the government have told us to do. Whilst the guidance perhaps suggest you could run with a running buddy if you kept 2m apart this isn’t really embracing social distancing and it isn’t promoting good practice, plus you’re putting yourself and others at risk. Do your part and use your common sense. You can also join a virtual run or race, do a fake parkrun, or schedule a time with a friend to go out separately then catch up over the phone when you’re home.

Be mindful of safety when running solo- tell your family where you’re going and how long you plan to be, or if you’re living alone check in with a friend via messenger or your phone and let them know when you’ll be back. You can also use apps like strava or whatsapp to share your location. Wearable safety devices like run angles are also great for solo runners. Whilst we are trying to find quiet pavements, balance this against keeping yourself safe.

Try different times of the day. I’ve tried a few different run schedules whilst I figure out this new working from home norm. I’ve found lunchtimes between 12- 1 tend to be quite busy as is 5 – 6:30ish. These are peak times for people taking a lunchbreak or finishing work. Getting up early and getting out there has proven to be the quietest time on my route, it’s also quite a nice way to settle into my work day, helps me focus whilst working from home and means I’m then in for the remainder of the day. There are also ‘odd’ times during the day when it is quiet eg 10-11:30ish and 2-3pm try a few (on different days) and see what works. The one thing I would caution against is running late at night in the dark, it is much quieter out there now and this might compromise your safety.

Quit the spit- and the snot rockets. Lets just keep our fluids to ourselves right now.

Be reasonable with your time, distance, area covered- now isn’t really the time to be going for a 4 hour run. Yes whilst this still counts as ONE exercise it is kind of abusing the trust we’ve been given. Be reasonable with the time you’re out, I tend to stick to around 1 hour and stay local. Laps are also a great way of staying close to your home and you can time yourself per lap to give yourself the motivation you need. Don’t drive to local parks or beauty spots to run as this isn’t essential travel.

Combine your running/ exercise with another task. Take your dog, take the kids, take the bin out, grab your essential groceries on the way home- it can save you going out again later in the day and helps us maximise the time we are staying at home.

Don’t go out at all- if you’re lucky enough to have some outdoor space you could try run a marathon in your back garden- it has been done!

Enjoy it! Embrace the outdoors, appreciate every minute, take in all the sights, sounds, smells around you. I’ve never felt more appreciative to be able to go out for a run.

Don’t forget to rest- you can alternate your days between running and walking, make sure you don’t overdo it. You want to come out of this stronger, not injured.

Wash your hands when you get home and avoid touching any surfaces on your way out or during your run. I’m actually taking some hand sanitizer in my pocket (i’m so lucky to have this, I know it is like gold right now).

Exercise ONCE per day. Don’t be that idiot that thinks the rules don’t apply to them. This is a serious global pandemic and people are dying, so don’t think you can bend or flout the guidance. Be responsible, do your one reasonable exercise then stay home. Right now being able to run is a privilege, one many countries/citizens don’t have and one we might not have in the future. Support our NHS and be accountable for your actions, we’re all in this together.

For more information please see the UK Government Advice which can be found online here.

You might also be interested in my top working from home tips which can be found in this recent blog.


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