June 2020: Let’s be safe out there

NEWSLETTER: April 2020

Durban and Pietermaritzburg should have been the centre of the South African road-running scene last week with 25 000 people scheduled to be squeezed on the narrow roads between the two KZN cities on Sunday, June 14. Instead South African (and international) athletes were spread apart as far as possible and tackling 20 000 individual virtual races.

As the national Covid-19 numbers have grown at an alarming rate over the past few weeks, nobody can argue that the decision to cancel the 90km ultra was probably correct, but runners are desperate to get their endorphin kick and so the Race The Comrades Legends virtual event was the next best thing. All finishers of this weekend’s virtual races – anything from 5km to 90km – can be proud of their achievement and will get their virtual medal and certificate to prove it. According to the Comrades Marathon Association, “a real medal which will be delivered” as well.

We are now deep in Level 3 restrictions on running, riding and walking, and while there are still a few issues that are confusing some people about the where, when and how of exercising, the easing of restrictions has certainly made training more pleasant.

But what are the regulations and what is common sense?

Let’s start with the Level 3 rules (as published on the official SA government coronavirus site found at https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ and the Government Gazette dated May 28).

Points nine and 10 under the Personal Movement section on the website are brief but pretty clear: “Walking, jogging and cycling are permitted” (that is point 10) but remember point nine still applies: “Social distancing (2m away from other persons) to be applied in public”.

The guidelines published in the Government Gazette on May 28 offer a bit more information by adding: “Exercise (is allowed) between the hours of 06h00 to 18h00: Provided that the exercise is not done in organised groups and adheres to health protocols and social distancing measures.” The Gazette also makes it clear that “A person must, when in a public place, wear a cloth face mask or a homemade item that covers the nose and mouth, or another appropriate item to cover the nose and mouth.”

Forbes and the Washington Post have offered some advice to people exercising as lockdown eases. With a lot of inexperienced runners, riders and walkers out there (OK, maybe not so much inexperienced walkers as inexperience exercisers who are walking), FinishTime has adapted their advice to our rules (or, as we understand them):

  1. Stay apart: The rules say stay 2m apart, but it is probably a good idea to try and maintain even more of a distance. “Typically, you breathe faster and harder when you are running than when you are standing or sitting – such panting may mean that you exhale respiratory droplets in greater quantities and project them farther,” says the Forbes article.
  2. Keep your eyes on the path and anticipate who or what is coming: Running, riding and exercising is not the time to be dreamily fantasizing about the latest heartthrob you have seen on Netflix. If you are running on a narrow path and someone is coming in the opposite direction, then one of you is going to have to move to one side – and be clear on your communication as to which way you are going: Crashing into a sweaty runner (or even worse, cyclist) coming in the opposite direction because you both moved off the path in the same direction could be traumatic (unless of course he/she looks like that person from Netflix).
  3. Don’t follow other runners / cyclists too closely. This should be obvious, but this is probably not the time to practice your slipstreaming skills.
  4. Again this may be obvious, but don’t run where you are not allowed. If there is chevron tape blocking a path, then there is probably a reason so go somewhere else.
  5. Start slowly. Even if you are an experienced athlete who has taken a break during lockdown, ease back into things slowly: Your body may not be used to it. Don’t think that you can go from the couch to a marathon in a few days.
  6. Face Masks: This is a tricky one. There are conflicting opinions about exercise and masks, but our regulations are clear: You need to be wearing a mask when you are outdoors. So we suggest you use common sense and be aware of how you are feeling. Running with a mask is going to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. According to the Cleveland Clinic, wearing a mask reduces the chance of your respiratory droplets coming in contact with someone else – and vice versa. However, “A face mask is going to decrease your airflow, making it a little harder to breathe,” says sports medicine specialist Dr Caitlin Lewis. “It won’t decrease your oxygen or retain carbon dioxide. But it will probably impact your performance or pace.” This means that you might have a harder time catching your breath and might also feel more fatigued quicker than normal. Because of this, you might need to modify the intensity of your run and take special note of point 7 below.
  7. Importantly the Cleveland Clinic advises runners and cyclists to monitor how you feel or be aware if you’re having any unusual symptoms. It’s important to know your body and be on the lookout for:
    • Chest pain.
    • Dizziness or light-headedness.
    • Difficulty or laboured breathing.

There is little chance organised mass-participation sporting events (running and cycling races) are going to be allowed until all restrictions are lifted. A bunch of heavy-breathing people all crowded into a small area simply makes the risk too great. For those of you that love racing this is not good news, but it provides a perfect opportunity to recalibrate your exercising. This is a great time to enjoy your exercise simply for the sake of exercising.

Stop chasing those PBs and spend some time taking in the world around you. Enjoy discovering some new routes. Stop every now and again and enjoy the view rather than seeing if you can get on the leaderboard for a Strava segment. And then, when racing starts again, you will be ready to notch up some PBs with a refreshed body and mind.

But above all, FinishTime asks you to be safe out there and respect others. Make sure the routes you run are safe and always be safe, even when you are not running.