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How Canadian Runners Are Staying Safe And Fit During Coronavirus Pandemic

Virtual races and running outside of peak hours are key.

TORONTO — Three to four times a week, Aidan D’Souza gets his kicks chasing one of his favourite feelings: the blood-pumping exhilaration known as “runner’s high.”

The 20-year-old, who attends Seneca College and runs the “Ontario Runners” fan page, has loved running since childhood. Because of coronavirus closures, that familiar joy is something he craves now more than ever.

“You get a good release, you get out of the house and you’ve accomplished something for the day,” he told HuffPost Canada.

Like many Canadian runners, the pandemic has changed D’Souza’s routine drastically. Instead of training for upcoming track races with teammates, he’s relegated to runs around his Toronto neighbourhood. With temperatures rising and isolation leaving many itching for outdoor activities, D’Souza has noticed more of his neighbours are joining him on the sidewalk.

It's hard to resist the great outdoors when you've spent days at home.
It's hard to resist the great outdoors when you've spent days at home.

Sport physiotherapist and University of British Columbia professor Chris Napier, who authored Science of Running, told HuffPost Canada he’s seen this trend too.

“I’m in Vancouver, we’ve had pretty good weather so people have been out a lot more,” he said, adding that gym closures have also contributed to the uptick.

Although early reports about joggers spreading COVID-19 caused initial fear, they’ve since been largely contested. In fact, Canada’s top doctors have given their approval for time spent outside; B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry gave the all-clear in a daily press conference on Wednesday, saying the chance of contracting COVID-19 from passing a coughing pedestrian was “infinitesimally small.”

Still, Canadians should take precautions to avoid viral transmission, as well as running-related injuries it’s easy to lace up your sneakers, but beginners and runners making comebacks are prone to hurting themselves, Napier warned.

Aidan D'Souza, who is an ambassador for Skechers Canada, is training for a potential race season later this year. He makes use of local lanes and fields to work out without violating social distancing measures.
Aidan D'Souza, who is an ambassador for Skechers Canada, is training for a potential race season later this year. He makes use of local lanes and fields to work out without violating social distancing measures.

If you’re planning to get through the pandemic with outdoor running, here’s how to do it safely:

Go the (social) distance

Unless you’re running with those in your household, running in groups is out of the question.

In order to follow social distancing recommendations, D’Souza said he and other runners are taking pains to cross the street when they see groups of pedestrians. When that’s not possible or when faced with a single pedestrian, he keeps a large buffer between himself and others.

To prevent tough choices, he noted that he often runs during lulls in the day: He aims to run when less people are outside, which is usually in the late afternoon.

Join a virtual race

Many runners find community in taking part in running clubs and joining marathons. With upcoming running events postponed or cancelled, Canada’s running organizations are encouraging their community members to stay connected amid social distancing through virtual races.

Runners can sign up to run or walk for a certain distance over a period of time. A major one in progress is the Spring Run-Off by Canada Running Series, which takes place from May 4 to July 1.

Canada Running Series’ event director Charlotte Brookes told HuffPost Canada the organization hopes to re-create race day excitement and promote running responsibly by pivoting to a virtual space where participants can celebrate their accomplishments together — instead of high fives, online recognition may look like giving kudos on fellow runners’ social media posts about hitting their goals.

In the absence of guidance from running clubs, they’ve created a free training plan for Canadians looking to join the Spring Run-Off.

Brookes believes that runners may also look forward to giving back through racing. The Canada Running Series annually raises more than $6 million for more than over 300 charities.

“It makes sense. People need a way to feel connected and like they’re actually supporting something bigger than themselves,” she said. “That feeling of, ‘I can contribute to this cause that’s really important to me or related to COVID-19,’ is so important.”

Watch: Running a marathon in his garden. Story continues after video

Bring a neck warmer, water and your phone

Face masks are recommended by Health Canada to reduce COVID-19 spread, but that may make it hard for you to catch your breath while engaging in a high-energy workout. NPR notes that the pacing of running makes it hard to keep a mask on, too.

While out on her runs, Brookes said, she’s found great success wearing a neck warmer. Once she spots someone nearby, she’s easily able to pull it over her nose and mouth.

Hydration is always important when exercising, so bringing a water bottle ensures you don’t have to needlessly step into a convenience store or rush back home for a sip. It might be worth shortening your run if you’re used to going on long treks, as there aren’t many places with washrooms available to the public right now.

A phone to communicate with others in case anything happens is also a good idea, Brookes said.

Take it slow

You might be raring to go on a five-kilometre journey, but your body might not be able to handle that. In Napier’s experience, going past your limit is a leading cause of runner injuries.

“People feel pretty cooped up and it’s easy to get swept up and do a bit too much,” Napier said.

To prevent hurting yourself, he suggests adding strength training to your routine and seeking physiotherapy for any abnormal pain.

Although some Canadians may be hesitant to go to the doctor during a pandemic, physiotherapists like Napier are still conducting appointments online.

For newbies who may not know the difference between healthy aches and pain that should cause concern, Napier says that any painful sensation that causes you to run differently should be looked at.

“If you’re having to offload that area because of pain, you should stop running. Or if you get pain that’s above a three out of 10 … or worsens the next day,” he said.

Beginners might appreciate joining a “learn to run” class like the one provided by Toronto-based Tribe Fitness, which Brookes said can provide informal support for those looking for help getting start-line ready.

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