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The Runaround: Social Distance Running

by on April 06, 2020 2:14 PM

Before I get into this column I want to say the problems runners are dealing with around the COVID-19 pandemic are arbitrary compared to those of you with actual problems. I salute all of the healthcare workers who are risking their and their family’s wellbeing to treat patients. I am extremely grateful to all of the essential workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and other stores. I pray that workers who have lost their jobs are able to take care of their families and they get the support they need.

And finally, to the parents who have been homeschooling their children the past few weeks while also working from home, I hope you have been able to find a good balance of teaching time, working time and family time. My 5 and 9 year olds have done pretty well at home but, and I think many will agree with me, all teachers and daycare workers need to have their salary tripled!

Compared to the rest of the world, the problems faced by runners have been fairly trivial. That said, it does stink to find out a race you have been training months for has been postponed or canceled. It started with the Boston Marathon postponing its race from April 20 to Sept. 14. Then the London Marathon postponed its race from April 26 to Oct. 4. Some races were outright canceled. I was training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 3. It was canceled.

Many races are starting to offer a virtual race option. If you’ve never run a virtual race it’s pretty simple. In lieu of traveling to a city, you run the distance you signed up for at your own convenience. The benefit of running a race this way is that you can plan it on your own schedule. If you go to run your virtual race but your 5 year old comes down with a stomach bug in the middle of the night, no worries, you can postpone it until the next day. Or if you wake up race morning and it’s a monsoon outside, postpone until later in the day or tomorrow. You’ll still get all of the swag you would normally get after finishing your race – medal, t-shirt, etc.

The bad part about a virtual race is unless you run with someone else (which you shouldn’t be doing at this point in the pandemic – more on that next) you miss the energy of the crowd cheering for you as you run your race. And that, in and of itself, is one of the biggest reasons to run a race. You feel like a superstar as you run past hundreds and thousands of people holding up signs, clanking cowbells and cheering you on. If your race is canceled and you are offered a refund, consider not asking for it. Many of these races barely make enough money to sustain themselves from one year to the next. Also, many races donate funds to charities. The big city marathons may be OK financially with races being canceled or postponed, but your local races and the charities they sponsor will likely struggle.

So how can runners keep themselves and others safe while in this global pandemic? First, be sure to maintain social distancing. This means you need to run alone or stay 6 feet apart while you run. I miss running with friends but I know running alone will help keep my family and their families safe. A friend of mine posted about her plans to run at such and such a time and wanted to know if anyone wanted to join her. NO! That’s not how to social distance yourself.

Think about it – most sidewalks aren’t 6-feet wide. If you’re running side-by-side on a sidewalk, there’s no way you are 6 feet apart. If your friend is running ahead of you, it’ll be pretty difficult to hold a conversation while maintaining social distancing. For these reasons, the Nittany Valley Running Club, which typically offers group run opportunities throughout the week, has suspended organized group runs. Enjoy the peace of running on your own, coming up with your own route, listening to whatever music or podcast you want, or just enjoy the silence of running without headphones or ear buds.

Don’t forget to help support your local running stores during this time. Rapid Transit is still taking phone or email orders. They will mail or deliver them. They are trying their best to be able to pay their employees by trying to make payroll each week. If you need to order shoes or other running or sporting goods, consider calling them at 814-238-3831 or emailing at [email protected]. I called them around 4 p.m. and I had my shoes dropped off at my door step by 6 p.m. You can’t beat that kind of service.

Regardless of your situation, I hope you are able to embrace this new normal of social distancing. As a teacher and parent it has certainly been a trying time but I’ve still been able to enjoy some of those smaller moments with my family and colleagues. That said, if I hear the word Zoom one more time, I think I’m going to lose it!

Upcoming Races

If you know of any races happening virtually in May, please email me at theschunks (at) gmail (dot) com to be included in next month’s column. 

Dyslexia Reading Center of Central PA Donut Dash Virtual Run – You get to choose to run or walk 1 mile or a 5k anytime in April. Unfortunately you will have to provide your own donuts. Once the social distancing regulations have been relaxed, an open house will be planned at the center for all participants.

The Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Virtual Run – Originally slated for April 19, this run has turned into a virtual run. Runners can choose to run a 5k or walk 2 miles at their convenience between April 12 and 19. You pick the course and time that works best for you while helping to raise money for Special Olympics. 



Doug Schunk is an avid runner and a chemistry teacher at State College Area High School. His running column will appear monthly.
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