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Promoting safety at marathons and other running events has been on the rise since the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013. Today’s threat of contracting the 2019-nCoV coronavirus at running events is no less serious and must be considered. So, how does one stay safe at races during this outbreak?
Coronavirus itself is nothing new, however the 2019-nCoV, now called COVID-19, strain of it is. COVID-19 began spreading in China from a seafood market. It is contracted through close contact with others and travels in respiratory droplets. It can live on inanimate objects for days if not cleaned with a simple disinfectant.
COVID-19 causes upper respiratory tract infections, and symptoms include runny nose, head ache, sore throat, cough and fever. For the elderly, those with underlying conditions and immunocompromised individuals, the virus can lead to pneumonia and even death.
Because the virus appears to be easily spread upon close contact with others, many marathon directors are taking no chances and cancelling or limiting participation in their races. Most recently, the Tokyo Marathon limited its race only to elite runners, but other marathons including the 2020 Paris Marathon, 2020 Hong Kong Marathon, 2020 Great Wall Marathon and 2020 Rome Marathon have cancelled events all together.
In general, runners who train regularly, eat balanced diets and allow for rest and recovery are less likely to contract viruses. However, the post-race runner’s body has likely been pushed farther than normal. This causes extra stress on the immune system and can leave a runner up to six times more susceptible to infection for weeks after the race. Overtraining and skimping on rest or eating a poor diet can also increase susceptibility to infection.
So, what is the risk to the average runner wanting to participate in the race? To determine that, we would have to assume the virus was present at the race among runners, spectators or volunteers—a high probability since it can take weeks for an infected person to show signs of disease.
Social Distancing is the term used for the act of keeping approximately six feet between yourself and another person to avoid becoming infected during pandemics. Since most races become crowded not only with runners but also with supporters, maintaining this distance is impossible. In fact, Runner’s World did some number crunching in this article and determined that in order to maintain social distance between each runner, the starting corrals would line up for over three miles. Can you imagine a three-mile walk before even starting out on the real race?
In a nutshell, the risk of runners contracting COVID-19 is high if the virus is present at the race. Let’s get real for a minute and consider how dirty running is—if you’ve ever run in cold weather or during allergy season, you can relate. There might be sweating, panting, spitting, burping, snot rockets, coughing and sneezing. Maybe you’re pacing behind someone, and you wipe the sweat from your eyes with your arm covered in his respiratory droplets. Someone else’s germs are now in your eyes. It’s easy to see how quickly the infection could spread.
For those who are at higher risk of complications from infections, the best way to protect yourself is to simply not race. We get it, races are expensive and your entry fee is a lot of money to kiss good-bye. Luckily, many marathons are allowing participants to defer their registration until the following year or offering refunds. Another option that allows you to get a race in is by participating in a Virtual Race like this one.
If you are in good health and want to race, there are ways to minimize your risk of contracting disease. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises the average person to avoid COVID-19 by:
We also came up with some race-day specific ways to reduce you—and your family’s—risk of contracting COVID-19 at a marathon. These include:
The only surefire way of avoiding contracting COVID-19 at the marathon is to simply avoid it. Check out a virtual race to replace your marathon this year like this Earth Day Virtual Run Challenge. Team up with others online to run the total distance around the equator of the planet, or 24,901 miles. Participating in a Virtual Race ensures you will still be around to run a live marathon next year.