Are You Ready to Run Maskless?

by Benita Zahn

I had planned to pen an article on the best mask to wear while running. I’d even reached out to a few companies to provide me with ‘trial’ masks to compare them. After skiing masked this past winter, I was looking for a product that didn’t get wet -- something that was breathable and better at wicking moisture. And then boom! The CDC surprise declaration: you can be mask-free if you’re fully vaccinated – preceded by the message of safety out of doors. So, like a good runner when faced with a blocked route, I changed course and am instead asking, are you ready to run maskless? I don't mean by yourself or with your regular running buddy, but at a race? As the world reopens, REAL racing returns as well. Sure, AREEP running has held some limited and successful events in recent months with strict masking and social distancing guidelines. Props to Josh Merlis and his team. But now the ‘before’ world is returning, and are you ready to embrace it?

As I opened my email this morning, there was a message from the folks at the Hartford Marathon Foundation. I’m running the half marathon in October. While they’ve modified the course(s) to adhere to capacity limits, it’s now a maskless event. As in New York, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont says masks are no longer required at outdoor events. If you want to wear one, please do and if you’re unvaccinated, wear one for your own safety.  You may have received similar messages from your upcoming races. 

So I ask again, are you ready to run maskless? And it’s more than that. The volunteers will be maskless, including the patient folks who man the water stops. Are you ready to engage? And what about the expo?  

For starters, we have to make our own decisions about this. There is still shaming going on – both toward the masked and maskless. After more than a year of sickness, fear, and confusion, not everyone is ready to toss masks to the wind. I am fully vaccinated, and masks are no longer required at my workplace. However, when I enter stores, I’m still covering my face. I don’t trust that the unvaccinated will be masked, and moreover, I like that I didn’t catch a cold this past winter. I’m crediting my mask. 

Yes, I know that my odds of contracting Covid 19 are minuscule.  And even if I did, the infection would likely be mild. That said, at this very moment, I get a little anxious thinking about being in a crowded corral at the start of a race. Mental ‘scars’ of the past 15 months, I suppose. So if Hartford was this weekend, I’m not sure what I’d do as I waited for the starting gun to sound. And it’s not just this race that I suspect draws a crowd predominantly from the U.S. What about the NYC Marathon slated to run in November? That field is always international. Will you reconsider your mask status if you’re competing in that race?

As for running sans mask in general,  oh yes! We’re outside and not near anyone long enough to worry. Sure, we all read those early articles about the ‘slipstream’ of our breath. And yes, initially, I crossed the street or ran off to the side of someone ahead of me, just in case there was a chance of infection in the days pre-vaccine. And I kept a mask around my neck, easy to pull up when running where there would be others to make them feel comfortable. But in my heart and my head, I  always thought we were safe outside. I never ‘got’ biking while masked – just moving too fast. But I respected those who did mask.

As I pen this, I can find numerous articles about running WITH a mask – the etiquette of doing so, the confrontations that arose between the masked and maskless, but nothing about ditching the mask in this in-between time. In-between because we are still feeling our way back to ‘normal’ and despite the precipitous drop in infections and death, we are not totally out of the woods.

So I may tuck a mask into my running shorts for the race start. Of course, I’ll be responsible and not drop it on the ground. And there’s plenty of time between now and October. I’ll be running the Miles on the Mohawk where masks will be required in the start area, at the finish chute, to get a water refill, and on the shuttle to the race start. I’ll consider this a tune-up for races to come, including Hartford.

Things can surely change as we proceed through the summer.  I hope only for the better.  Here’s to the wind at your back and the sun on your face!

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