Should runners wear masks on their jogs?

September 10, 2020 — by Carolyn Wang

Over the summer, sophomore Anand Agrawal has been consistently running around 25 miles a week. He runs for the school’s cross country and track team, and despite persistent cases in COVID-19 in the state, he has been using quarantine to prepare for the upcoming sports seasons. 

Freshman Medha Ravi has also used the extra time to run a mile almost daily, and she’s found it a great way to get a breath of fresh air.

Running during quarantine is a common way to stay fit, but physical exercise outside also comes with more complications than in pre-pandemic times: for one, whether to wear a mask or not. While many students agree that wearing a mask is important to prevent transmission of COVID-19 when completing daily activities, exercising in a mask can posit difficulties for many athletes.

Long distance runners are often faced with heavy physical exertion and rely largely on their ability to take in oxygen quickly and efficiently, which for some can be hindered significantly by a mask covering over the nose and mouth.

“Usually, I can go about 3-4 miles without having to stop, but the one time I tried running with a mask on, I couldn’t run for a mile without stopping for air,” Agrawal said. “I still carry the mask with me, and I put it on when I stop, but I don’t actively wear it during running.”

In an interview with Dr. Grant Lipman, a Stanford University clinical professor who studies extreme athletes and wilderness medicine, Lipman told the New York Times that “in effect, the mask turns the bottom half of your face into a ‘mini-sauna,’ leading to a buildup of sweat under the mask and a related rise in nasal secretions.” It is magnified by heavy exertion because “exercising in a face mask creates a warm and humid microclimate around your face.” 

Runner’s World has also reported that running with a mask is inherently more difficult because runners have to work harder to get the same amount of air into their lungs.

Despite these and other drawbacks, senior Bryan Young, who runs for the school’s cross country and track team, always wears a surgical mask on his runs. He understands why many runners decide to opt out of mask-wearing but finds it inconsiderate of them to do so.

“Symptoms of coronavirus don’t show for quite a while, and you can still spread the virus in perfect running condition,” Young said. “People who are going outside should just wear masks, period.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people stay at least 6 feet away to maintain social distancing, but according to the Washington Post, some experts such as Virginia Tech professor Linsey Marr, who studies how viruses travel through the air, says that “runners should try to keep 10 feet between them and other runners or walkers, if not more.”

She also emphasized that 6 feet was not some magical number that would automatically decrease transmission of the disease.

And although the CDC has guidelines recommending the general public to wear masks, they have not given explicit guidance on whether masks should be worn in outdoor exercise.

As a result, for people like Ravi, her mask-wearing has been more of a 50-50 split over the summer.

“In the beginning I was completely paranoid of the coronavirus. I told myself I had to wear gloves and a mask,” Ravi said.

After a while, Ravi ended up ditching both the gloves and the mask, but she always brings a mask with her just in case. To avoid coming into contact with people, she switches sidewalks every now and then on her runs.

According to athletics director Tim Lugo, students who attended training workouts over the summer were advised by the state not to wear masks when conducting strenuous physical activity. However, all teachers, coaches and students were required to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms prior to workout and stay at least 6 feet apart. Masks were required if athletes were not actively participating in an activity, he said.

As for the winter, the school hasn't received any guidelines for upcoming sports as of yet. 

“The [state] will work with the California Public Health Department to craft [these guidelines],” Lugo said in an email. “But I doubt that they will require masks when participating.”

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Due to the lightning complex that occurred in the week of Aug.17, Santa Clara County is currently surrounded by wildfires, covering the city of Saratoga in heavy smoke. The air quality was in the range of 100 to 200 for the past five days, forcing SHS to close down. Photo by Selina Chen.

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