Running (while female) in the pandemic

Running While Female In The Pandemic: safety and etiquette

There’s been a lot of discussion in the media around runners lately – both about their safety and the safety of others who may encounter them. Two worrying pieces have caught my eye: firstly, a Guardian article in which professional female runners in Wales reported being heckled and even physically attacked when attempting to train in parks and cities during lockdown. And secondly, a letter in the Bishop Stortford Independent attacking female runners and accusing them of taking over pavements and endangering pedestrians. There have also been calls for all runners to wear masks to avoid them spreading the Coronavirus.

There’s a perceived risk that runners are endangering the pedestrians they encounter, but science doesn’t back this up. Firstly, the likelihood of catching Covid from a runner is very low. Secondly, masks are not only not required for outdoor exercise, the World Health Organisation has actively discouraged their use when running (as they reduce the ability to breathe comfortably, and quickly become wet, which actually encourages the growth of microrganisms). You do not need to wear a mask to walk, run or cycle if you don’t want to.

What is far more important is that we runners give other people space – ideally two metres. Give pedestrians a wide berth – check for traffic and then step into the road or off the path if you need to, and don’t assume walkers will move for you – it’s easier for runners to get out of the way than for slower pedestrians. The real issue here is that a small minority of runners (of both sexes) are disregarding the need to give pedestrians space, and giving the running community a bad name.

It’s deeply worrying to hear that female runners are encountering more abuse on the streets, and there’s conflicting messaging on safety here, too. On one hand, the safest thing to do in a pandemic is to run alone, or run early or late when less people are around, and in secluded areas where you’ll encounter less pedestrians. The problem with this approach? Many female runners are aware of the dangers involved in running alone in secluded areas. In lockdown I’ve stuck to one regular 10k circuit in secluded woodland where I often don’t meet anyone at all, especially in bad weather. I would never run this route at night. I’m lucky – as a freelancer, I can run in the daylight. Anyone working full time is currently restricted to running before or after work, when it’s dark, and is likely to need to stick to well-lit, busy areas where they are safe.

And I all I can say to my fellow female runners is: please keep running. I’ve been running five times a week during the pandemic, for both my mental and physical health, and it’s been a huge help for both. It’s one of the few ways we are allowed to get outside and get some much needed exercise and headspace in these dark months. I personally only ever encounter very pleasant people on my many runs – today I ran eight miles and exchanged smiles with no less than five sets of people. Pedestrians regularly say thank you when I give them space or stop to let them pass. Please never let anyone make you feel that you do not have just as much right to use parks or city pavements as them.

Give others space, be considerate and consider your own safety too. We are all in this together – let’s be patient, respectful and excellent to each other.

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