By Randy & Tia Accetta (Randy is the RRCA Director of Coaching Education) - RRCA recommends all members, in accordance with current Federal guidelines, to cancel or postpone all events/organized group training runs/group training programs if these activities occur between now and the end of April and beyond based on local and state government regulations.

With regulations and guidelines from governments and health experts regarding COVID-19 constantly evolving, so too are best practices and advice for runners and walkers. Always make sure to consult the latest information from the Coronavirus Federal Task Force (White House, CDC, FEMA at coronavirus.gov) as well as your state and county health agencies before exercising outside. The CDC has a listing of all State Health Departments, which is a quick and easy resource to help you find information for your community.

Advice and Public Health Overview

First and foremost, always draw on expert medical advice from the CDC and from your state and county's public health agencies.

At this writing, the country is in a national state of emergency.  The “30-Days to Slow the Spread” guidelines from the White House have been extended to April 30.  Know your local mandates, which may provide for stricter limitations for a longer duration.  For example, at this writing, the Governor of Virginia (where RRCA is based) issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 30 "to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 until June 10, 2020."

As physician and RRCA coaching course instructor Dr. Bobby Gessler says, “"It is extremely important to protect oneself and other people.  This needs to be a community effort with family, extended family, friends, and neighbors all doing their part." 

At this time, the RRCA recommends running alone, or only with those you reside with such as children, a significant other, or roommate.  If you run with a friend, do so only with one person that you have had regular contact with in recent weeks and respect the 6-8ft spacing recommendations.  Keep in mind, running alone also comes with its own set of safety concerns. Make sure to review the RRCA's "General Running Safety Tips" before heading out on a workout on your own.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 5.00.27 PM

The RRCA recommends some basic do's and do not's out on the run (assuming that you will also follow the overarching CDC guidelines): 

  • Don't go out for a run or walk if you are feeling ill or have flu-like symptoms.
  • Do practice social distancing - ensure appropriate spacing between runners; the current recommendation is at least six to eight feet of separation.
  • Do respect community regulations if parks, tracks, and multi-use trails have been closed due to over-use during stay-at-home orders.
  • Do run single-file, not two abreast unless there is ample public space to do so.  Don't force others off of a sidewalk or trail by hogging the space. 
  • Do alter your route or time of day you run if you find it too crowded to ensure appropriate social distancing.
  • Don't spit or “nose rocket” your nose in public – bring along tissues or a small towel or a good old-fashioned hanky if you need to get rid of some snot during your run/walk.
  • Carry your own fluids and avoid contact with public water fountains.
  • Do wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after using a port-a-john.  As NPRA reminds people, prepare for limited access to public restrooms or water fountains.
  • Don't share towels, food, gels, or any other item if you run or walk with family or one close friend.
  • Do tactfully remind others you see out on your run to practice social distancing if you see groups of 3 or more.
  • Do use sidewalks where available in your community.  Most communities have ordinances requiring the use of sidewalks by pedestrians when available. Do not create unsafe driving situations for emergency vehicles by running down the middle of a road. The last thing the medical community needs right now is to treat avoidable accidents and injuries.
  • Don't post group selfies on social media after a run....you shouldn't be running in a group right now.

While RRCA is asking that everyone to run alone for a period of time, keep in mind there are a lot of ways that groups can stay connected digitally to help maintain the important connection to community, to help motivate friends, and to help provide a healthy distraction from the news.  For example RRCA member club Eastern Shore Running Club has been sharing photo collages of members running solo as a means to stay connected virtually by respecting social distancing needs.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.52.49 PM

What Experts Say About Exercise and Immune Health

To help us think about how to stay safe during this public health crisis, we looked at a few academic articles in the field of immune health and exercise.  As with all fields, there are competing viewpoints, but we’ve leaned on these sources for the following information and we are grateful for the private communication with some of these authors:

 “Should, and how can, exercise be done during a coronavirus outbreak? An interview with Dr. Jeffrey A. Woods.”  Journal of Sport Health Science. Retrieved March 17: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7031769/
“Can exercise affect immune function to increase susceptibility to infection?”  Exercise Immunology Review.  Simpson, Campbell, Gleeson, Kruger, Nieman, Turner, Pyne, and Walsh.  Retrieved March 17: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339775058_Can_exercise_affect_immune_function_to_increase_susceptibility_to_infection?)

“Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan.”  Frontiers in Immunology. Campbell and Turner.  Retrieved March 15: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648/full
“Recommendations to maintain immune health in athletes.” European Journal of Sport Science. Neil P. Walsh. Retrieved March 17: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17461391.2018.1449895
Takeways In Support of Exercise: From the Simpson, Campbell, Gleeson et al article:  There is agreement that “Regular bouts of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise are beneficial for the normal functioning of the immune system and likely help lower the risk of respiratory infection/illness and some cancers. The frequent exchange of immune cells between the blood and the tissues with each bout of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise likely contributes to enhanced immune surveillance, improved health and a lower risk of illness.”

From Woods: “It is safe to exercise during the coronavirus outbreak. One should not limit the multitude of health benefits that exercise provides us on a daily basis just because there is a new virus in our environment. However, there may be some additional precautions to reduce your risk of infection.”

From Campbell and Turner: "Evidence from epidemiological studies shows that leading a physically active lifestyle reduces the incidence of communicable (e.g., bacterial and viral infections) and non- communicable diseases (e.g., cancer), implying that immune competency is enhanced by regular exercise bouts . . . exercise should be encouraged, particularly for older adults who are at greatest risk of infections and who may obtain the greatest exercise-induced benefits to immune competency.”

"leading an active lifestyle is likely to be beneficial, rather than detrimental, to immune function . . . “

Opposing Viewpoint: According to the Simpson, Campbell, Gleeson et al article, there is a viewpoint that “illness risk may be elevated during periods of heavy exertion that go beyond recommended physical activity guidelines, especially when other stressors are present.”

Training Advice for Runners

If you are new or returning to running after a long break, the RRCA has recommendations for getting started during the era of social distancing.

While following government guidelines, if you can get outside for your regular run, that's great.  At this time, RRCA advocates moderate training effort, while reducing the physical and mental stress of holding yourself to a focused training cycle.  However, if you continue to train, consider managing your effort spikes and planning a recovery or adaptation week every second or third week.

Evidence indicates that this is a time to incorporate a bout of moderate effort followed by a recovery period – NOT what is commonly called cumulative fatigue, where you are in constant low-level stress in order to build building the ability to handle constant fatigue. That is, give yourself a gentle spike of effort followed by enough rest to recover – as opposed to doing consistent bouts of effort that leave you fatigued on an ongoing basis. In contrast to training for peak performance, the goal in this phase is to be moderate.  In this public health crisis, you want to provide time for rest and recovery so that you are not feeling lethargic.

Go Back to Base: As races and event cancel, you may lose your motivation to train.  Remember, though, this is a great time to cycle into a phase of Base Training.  Easy conversational pace running has proven mental health benefits and proven cardiorespiratory benefit, so spend this time doing easy running at a low heart rate. 

Depending on fitness, a base program of 1-2 runs of 25-40 minutes, 1-2 runs of an hour or so, and a longer run of 90-120 minutes will get you in excellent aerobic shape.  (More running for those who run more and less for those who run less . . .)  

Add in a 10-20 minute protocol of standard body-weight strength work and any of the standard flexibility/mobility exercises.  A few months of this gentle running and you'll be in excellent shape.  

Sprinkle in Some Effort: On the other hand, the good news is that you can also continue with high intensity training.   As Dr. Jeff Messer, an exercise physiologist and 2017 US Girls High School Coach of the Year writes in an email, “Two (2) such vigorous sessions per week, for example, interspersed with multiple recovery sessions might be highly conducive to both a progressive enhancement of aerobic fitness and a corresponding enhancement of immunocompetency.”

Thus you may feel comfortable adding in 20 minutes of Lactate Threshold Tempo Run or 1-3 miles total of Track Tuesday-style vigorous sessions.  Dr. Messer writes that this sort of training, “presupposes, of course, that an individual has no physician-imposed limitations to aerobic exercise / training and no substantially or potentially limiting health issues (such as a prior myocardial infarction, for instance).”

In sum, Dr. Messer indicates that consistent mild-to-moderate intensity interspersed with periodic vigorous intensity bouts “can collectively yield improved immunological health.”

Run-Specific Cross Training and Indoor Exercise:  We love activities that mimic the running motion and increase our ability to bring in and process oxygen.  Due to many of the community restrictions, this is a great time to include run-specific cross-training activities in a training regimen, such as walking, hiking, elliptical, ElliptiGo, stair-stepper, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, bike riding, and swimming (but only if you own a personal pool at this point in time).

If you can't leave your house, there are still multiple ways to exercise:
•    Do body-weight exercises for muscle strength;
•    Stretch for flexibility and mobility;
•    Do core workouts for stability'
•    Do modified cardiorespiratory workouts such as walking up and down flights of stairs
•    Set-up a cross-fit style exercise course in your home using household items as weights.

Keep sight of the fact that the goal right now is to maintain or improve your health. Experts also suggest that we all try to get quality sleep, eat well, and make efforts to reduce stress as much as possible.