In the silver linings department, the pandemic has given me the chance to recover from a running injury I suffered late last fall. Happily, after a long layoff, I’ve found myself able to begin jogging again.
In these sweltering temperatures, though, motivation always helps. I was thinking that I might aim to participate in a local road race or two this fall. In particular, I’ve been eyeing various events (relay, 5K or half-marathon) that are a part of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, which is currently scheduled to take place in early October.
Do you think it will be safe to participate?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
With the current surge in COVID-19 cases, it seems highly unlikely that a large community exercise event could be made safe. Indeed, even a smaller, local race would carry risks.
The country’s three best-known marathons — Boston, New York and Chicago — have all canceled their scheduled fall 2020 races. While each involves more participants than any race in our state, the logic underlying these cancellations applies here, as well.
Although held outdoors, where the virus doesn’t spread as efficiently, races and community fitness events like 5K walks bring together large groups of people. Especially at the start and finish, people gather in large groups in confined areas where social distancing is impossible.
During the events, participants exercise vigorously, which leads to powerful exhalations of large amounts of air — and respiratory droplets. These droplets are the way we pass the virus from one person to the other, and as we’ve learned, many infected people can be asymptomatic or presymptomatic.
Wearing masks while exercising is uncomfortable and restricts breathing; they’ve also been found to increase heart rate significantly during exercise. Consequently, we can’t expect participants to wear face coverings at these events, especially if temperatures remain even moderately warm.
Finally, most races and walks have hydration stations, where volunteers provide water or sports drink for participants. These stations also represent a significant potential vector for disease transmission. But they are vital; without them, runners and walkers risk dehydration and heat-related illness, especially in longer events.
In normal times, events like road races offer communities the chance to gather and celebrate fitness. Until we control this virus, though, working out on our own represents the safest path to good health.