by Andy Reed
On June 13th, I met Bob Irwin for a 12-mile run on the trails up at the Vischer Ferry Preserve in Clifton Park. It was my first run with another person in over three months. Thanks a lot, coronavirus. Damn you, your mandatory masks, and your social distancing.
A few weeks ago, in yet another run with an actual person, I met up with Karen Bertasso-Hughes for a spirited 90 minutes on the Niskayuna roads and bike path. We started slowly, chatting a little. Karen said she'd run with other people a few times but had mostly been running alone, slowly rebuilding fitness after the Olympic Trials. As the miles clicked by at Karen's typical sub 7:00 mile long run pace, we passed other people out running and walking. Some of the walkers wore masks. Most of the runners did not.
The science is clear. Masks help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. I support the use of masks. However, I don’t wear a mask when I run. I generally run alone, or maybe with one other person. In those situations, where we are outdoors and generally at least 6 feet apart, I feel the risk of contracting or spreading the virus is quite low.
I understand the science behind the need to wear masks in situations where social distancing is not possible, and I choose to wear a mask at those times. Recently, as mask use has become mandatory, I’ve heard increasingly ridiculous arguments against wearing masks. “Masks make it hard to breathe.” “Masks cause carbon dioxide poisoning.” “Masks are hot.” This got me thinking again. Should we be wearing masks when we run? If everyone was required to wear a mask, could we gather in large(er) groups and race normally? Most importantly, can we wear masks when we run and still run at a high level? I think there is a possibility we could.
In 2011, at the USA Track and Field Championships in Eugene Oregon, Galen Rupp wore a type of surgical mask during the 10,000 meter final. Rupp was plagued by pollen allergies and ran the race in a black surgical mask with a filtering element. He ran most of the 25 laps of the race wearing the mask, only taking it off when he had to outkick Matt Tegenkamp in the final laps for the win. Rupp won the slow, tactical race in a pedestrian 28:38, managing an average pace of ‘only’ 4:35 per mile. So do masks affect running performance? Is there a possibility we could run -- and race -- in masks if we had to? You decide.
Ed. Note: I was in Japan in 2008 and noticed some people wearing masks. I thought they were doing it to protect themselves maybe being germophobes. Turns out there are strong societal norms in Japan and other oriental countries to wear masks if one has a respiratory illness. It is considered the height of rudeness to cough or sneeze on others so that mask wearing is not questioned.