Socially Responsible running during a pandemic (updated 9th January 2021)

This guidance aims not only to protect others' health, but to set a good example and prevent bad feeling towards other runners. My advice (which is my own, and does not represent the views of my employers or clients) deliberately encourages people to go above and beyond official restrictions.

Why run at all?

Staying active is important, especially if restrictions are extended further. Experts suggest that staying fit and healthy increases the resilience of people who do end up contracting the virus.

The NHS and PHE recommend getting outdoors once a day for exercise - unsurprising since they've been dealing with a chronic public health crisis for years due to poor diet and exercise habits. Public Health England found 1 in 6 deaths (~250 per day) are due to physical inactivity - this figure also doesn't account for the impact of lockdown on people's mental health. So stay safe, but make sure you're not storing up more health problems for later.

  1. Only run if safe and permitted to do so. If you have any possible symptoms of covid19, or any other reason to be isolated, stay inside. Follow up-to-date guidance and rules on preventing infection.

  2. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE: the 2-metre rule is the bare minimum - try to stay as far as possible away from other people while social distancing measures are in place, and in general. Make a point of moving well away from other pedestrians - slow down or stop if necessary.

  3. Run facing traffic. On most UK roads, this means the right-hand side of the road, sticking to the left (kerb) side of the pavement. This way you avoid people coming out of doorways, you see vehicles coming, and you can better judge when it's safe to move into the road with caution to avoid pedestrians. Please don't cut it fine with traffic - slow down or stop if necessary.

  4. Be seen: wear bright clothing and/or flashing armbands in the dark

  5. Listen: don't wear headphones in public (races no longer allow them anyway).

  6. Be alert: watch for other people, and don't assume that they'll give you enough space. Slow down or stop if necessary.

  7. Pick quiet routes - think time and place: you can enjoy some beautiful views if you pick unpopular times and out-of-the-way places. Avoid popular parks or high streets at busy times.

  8. Go off-road: running on different surfaces is good training anyway. If you're in a park, run on the grass where possible, rather than squeezing past people on a narrow path.

  9. Go solo if possible: current guidelines allow exercise with one other person, staying a safe distance apart. Running with a partner is good for lots of reasons but obviously complicates social distancing more than running solo, which I'd recommend. If however the only time you can run is after-dark and you feel unsafe doing this alone, then it's proportionate to meet a buddy (it may also be a quieter time too). See 7 above: if you're in a pair, it becomes even more important to stick to less-busy areas.

  10. Stay local: don't travel to an 'ideal' running spot - other people will have the same idea, and it's an unnecessary journey.

  11. Stay comfortable: while evidence is mixed, if you exercise so hard that you're fatigued (i.e. running longer or faster than ever), this might reduce your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Err on the side of caution, and stick to comfortable rather than flat-out sessions. If you're a new runner, stay within your comfort zone.

  12. Use time wisely: while there is no formal limit on the duration of a run, use common sense: in a deserted area, a longer run creates no problems; in a popular location, stick to shorter workouts so other people get a turn using the space.

  13. Be hygienic: never, ever, spit or blow snot. Not now, not ever. Please. Bring tissues and dispose of them at home. Also, wash hands before and after going outside, and avoid touching any surfaces.

  14. Hand signals: pointing your hand out to the left or right, and moving decisively to the corresponding side of the path/road/pavement, avoids the awkward 'after-you shuffle' if someone's coming towards you.

  15. Stay civil: if, in spite of sticking to all the above, people are rude or confrontational to you, don't rise to it, in-person or online. You don't know what that person's going through, we've all said things we regret under stress, and it's in everyone's interests to avoid escalation. All we can do is role-model through our own behaviour and observe rules impeccably. Threats and violence, however, is another matter, and something the police will take seriously.

Good luck, stay safe, stay healthy, and happy running!