Remember when running accessories were things like headphones or quick-dry hats? Then COVID-19 came, and a global pandemic, unlike any other in generations, has affected every aspect of our lives, from daily family routines to government policy. And that includes how we run.
Because if you’re a runner, you still want to get your miles in. So, that means you need the newest piece of most-have running gear: a facemask.
But you probably have some questions about running with a mask. It's not as straightforward or easy as it sounds. Running in a face mask is a brand new element to deal with, even if you're a veteran runner with countless races and marathons under your belt.
Here are answers to all the questions you should ask about running with a facemask.
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Do I need a mask when I run?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anyone living where COVID-19 is widespread needs to wear a mask whenever they go out and can't keep one meter away from other people. It doesn't matter if they're exhibiting symptoms or not. Many local governments have issued orders mandating that people wear masks in public and use fines to enforce them. If that sounds like anywhere you live, you need to bring a mask when running.
It's important to remember that a face mask helps protect others more than you. Just because you feel fine doesn't mean you're not infected and asymptomatic or will develop symptoms later. And the same is true for everyone else; your protection comes from others wearing masks.
Running creates laboured breathing, which may intensify the release of infected particles for someone with COVID-19. And it's a non-stationary activity, in which runners are out traversing a large area (or huge area for long-distance runners).
So if you're going for a run, where at any point you'll come within one to three meters of another person, then you need to wear a mask. But even if you run a secluded route with no one around, you should have a mask ready to put on in case of any unexpected contact with other people.
Learn more about how masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.
What type of mask is best for running?
The basic consensus is that whatever mask you wear when you run should NOT be a medical mask. Medical-grade masks are only for medical personnel and those infected. The pandemic has put a strain on such masks' supplies, so wearing one for a run would be a waste of valuable resources. They're also ill-suited for it.
Tech writer Andrew Williams tried running in a few different types of masks for Forbes. He found the disposable 3-ply masks, which are in most medical facilities and not meant for active use, to be uncomfortable and "will likely turn you off running." Meanwhile, running in a mask equivalent to the masks used by those dealing directly with COVID-19, N95 or KN95, is too restrictive of airflow and limits breathing. Williams describes the experience as "a living nightmare."
So what mask did he find worked best? A reusable cloth mask specifically designed for running.
What design features should I look for in a running mask?
As the pandemic progressed, the need for face masks designed for active use became more evident. The running accessories market has since become flooded with many different options.
Whatever mask by whatever brand or manufacturer you choose should be:
- fit snugly around the nose and mouth
- made from multi-layered cloth
So make sure your facemask has an adjustable fit, with either ties in the back or ear loops to ensure it can stay in place and adjusted to your comfort. A nose clip or wire is another great feature to check for since that can help create a proper seal around your face. If you wear glasses while you run, it can prevent fogging.
Most experts recommend getting a mask that uses more than one layer of fabric for filtering out particles. Any mask you buy should also be strong and tough enough to go through many rounds in the washing machine and dryer without any damage.
How do I run with a face mask?
A good way to start running in a facemask is to approach it like when you're coming off an injury. You don't push yourself. Ease into it. Go at a slower pace across shorter distances to get used to wearing a mask when you run. As you become more acclimated to it, you can push to go faster and farther.
It's also best to run on your own, limiting your proximity and exposure to other people. The only exception is if you're running with someone you live with and interact with every day, like a significant other or roommate. Sorry, running group fans!
And if you find yourself alone on a desolate part of your run, feel free to slip your mask off. “I think that’s reasonable,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the Director of the United States’ National Institute Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said in a recent interview. “You don’t have to have it on if there’s nobody around.”
Though Dr Fauci stressed, people need to be aware of others around them when their mask is off. "If you think you're going to get close to people," he said, "flip a mask on."
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Should I change anything about my running when wearing a mask?
There's always some adaptation needed when you add any new running gear to your training. And a running mask is no exception. The big adjustment for runners training in a face mask is learning to do all their breathing, inhaling and exhaling, through the nose.
Breathing through your mouth in a face mask creates a build-up of moisture, which can be incredibly uncomfortable and unhygienic. If you struggle with breathing just through your nose, try practicing with videos on the yoga breathing technique Ujjayi Pranayama.
Another running habit to break because of COVID-19 is drafting behind other runners. It can be almost second nature for any seasoned runner to pull up behind someone at a race or in training and mindlessly match their pace for a bit. But that's also the worst place to be. If the other runner is infected, it's a high-risk spot for exposure to any infected particles they're breathing out -- even if you're both wearing masks.
What to watch out for when running with a mask?
There are a few things to keep in mind when you're out running with a face mask. The first is to make sure the mask stays in place and that your breathing doesn't feel constricted. It's important to remember that face masks are more than just running accessories and are necessary for public health. But you don't need to overexert yourself.
You also need to be aware of your mask becoming damp or wet from spit or mucus. If it soaks to the mask's outer part, it negates the protection to others, and you need to end your run and go home or change to another mask immediately.
Be sure also not to take too long to pass another runner or anyone else on your route. Passing someone on a running path or trail usually means getting closer than the recommended distance. And while that's the reason for wearing a mask while running, it's not a replacement for social distancing. So, speed up and pass people as quickly as possible.
What mistakes do people make in handling their running masks?
There are any number of mistakes that people can make with face masks. Even those who are well-informed with good intentions can unknowingly slip up handling and taking care of their face masks. These are the kind of errors that can get people sick. The two biggest mistakes in regards to running masks are:
- Touching their face when they put the mask on or off. It can transfer any virus particles from their hands and lead to infection. So be sure only to touch the mask when putting it on and off.
- Not washing a face mask after each use. Even if you've mastered breathing just through your nose and the mask looks dry and clean, you need to wash it with soap and hot water, preferably in a washing machine, after EVERY USE. That's why it's probably not a bad idea to buy more than one mask for running.