Runners will go to great lengths to ensure the safety of others, as well as themselves, in this time of health uncertainty.
Yet nine months into a global test of will, the challenge of wearing a mask while exercising tops the list of difficult social obligations.
In the summer, a mask covering the mouth and nose turned the protection device into a soggy mess.
And now, while winter’s approaching cooler weather offers some relief in that department, the concept of recycling unwanted carbon dioxide (what you exhale) continues to test high-speed striders.
So, in some cases, compromises are made.
Runners who gather for a group training session or a race (somewhat rare these days) often wear masks at the start – then, as individuals “spread out,’’ lower the mask and breathe openly until they approach the finish point, where the masks are put back in position.
It’s not a perfect arrangement but, as 2020 thankfully draws to a close, it appears to be a fairly effective one.
“It’s easier running with a mask now in the cooler weather than in the hotter months,’’ suggests Joe Boyce, Saturday morning run/cycle leader for the Bucks County Roadrunners Club. “Particularly in humidity, the mask becomes a wet rag, and breathing is difficult, feeling as though you’re sucking in water rather than air.
“I find it harder to breathe the faster the pace. One change I made is rarely wearing sunglasses with a mask. The glasses fog up and inhibit vision.’’
Group run etiquette depends on the situation.
“Within our groups, most people adhere to the mask rule when running near people,’’ Boyce says. “Some people wear their masks all or most of the time. Others take them down when there’s enough separation. I take mine down as soon as I feel I’m sufficiently distanced from other people.’’
Then there’s the predicament where you’re running along a path, sometimes in tight quarters, and other measures need to be taken.
“Crossing paths with others is hit or miss,’’ Boyce says. “Some wear masks. Others do not. Most, however, move away to allow more distancing when approaching.’’
Tom Fuoco recently drove down to Vero Beach, Fla. for a vacation week. He attended a race there and what he witnessed wasn’t very promising.
“The local ‘Runners Depot’ had its annual Thanksgiving Day 5K race,’’ Fuoco explains. “Live and a virtual option. Just watching from a safe distance, to me the runners showed little to no concern for the virus.
“The announcer said to please wear a mask before and after the race but it was not mandatory during the race. As the hundreds of runners lined up, they were shoulder-to-shoulder in many rows deep, I saw very few masks.
“Post-race they had refreshments and awards just like usual. I was amazed and depressed how careless and irresponsible the participants and organizers behaved.’’
Back here, BCRR does its best to follow accepted social protocols, masks being at the top of the list.
“Our group run leaders have done a fantastic job promoting the use of masks and social distancing when we gather together before a run,’’ says BCRR vice president Richard Kanak.
“Running with a mask is difficult for sure, but many of us have elderly folks or family with underlying medical conditions and we don’t want to take a chance of getting COVID and passing it on to them.
“So most of the people I run with have a mask on whenever we can’t be far enough part to be safe. And we ‘mask up’ when we cross paths with others. That much is pretty easy to do.’’
Bill Schaffling organizes BCRR’s weekend runs and when he announces the schedule, he makes it loud and clear what the club expects.
“I wear a buff instead of a mask since I find it easier to wear and breathe,’’ Schaffling says. “However, I find it very difficult to wear for any length of time and also take it down when sufficiently separated.
“Although it’s easier in the cooler temperatures, I still find it difficult and will be glad when we don’t have this anymore.’’
And BCRR Winter Series director John O’Brien wants to set a good example for others.
“I normally avoid the (Delaware Canal) towpath because I can’t always maintain a good distance,’’ O’Brien says. “Most of my runs now are solo through Core Creek (Park).
“There, if I encounter other people, I can run off the path on the grass for a short distance to make sure I can maintain distance.’’
The Winter Series starts on Jan. 3 and O’Brien will be ready.
“My plan for the Winter Series is to have a mask to use before and after the race,’’ O’Brien says, “which I will wear while setting up and breaking down, and a buff to wear to during the race that I can pull up when needed.’’
O’Brien’s crew will be put to the test like never before but everyone understands sacrifices have to be made. It’s the times we live in.
Saturday, Dec. 12
Christmas City Races 5K, 9:15 a.m., Quakertown. Contact www.christmascityraces.com