The world seems to have ground to a screeching halt in the last three weeks. Blamo! We are living in a mild version of “I am Legend” or “The Walking Dead”, sans the danger of zombies, but with every bit of boredom and uncertainty of being confined to close quarters that was predicted by those. We, as a global society, are willing participants of the social distancing effort, since the danger of COVID-19 caused by the Coronavirus is indeed clear and present and people are dying. Healthcare workers work tirelessly to help the sick while finding ways of treating this unexpected malady. Runners around the world find themselves having to make big adjustments to their training routines and social lives.
Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order directing Oregonians to stay home “to the maximum extent possible,” except for when carrying out essential tasks like getting groceries, refueling their vehicles, or obtaining health care. In addition, recreational activities like running or hiking are allowed under this order, as long as people maintain a 6-foot distance from each other. Social gatherings of any sort are prohibited, albeit with an exception if the 6-foot gap is maintained. An earlier order from the governor closed all bars and restaurants, except for take-out and delivery. That means that getting together for a post-run beer at The Lucky Lab is out of the question until further notice.
So, what does a Portland-area trail runner make of all of this? Running in your neighborhood is allowed, but can we run in Forest Park? What about a trail in the gorge, or another destination in the wilderness? Yasmin Solorio, assistant to the Communications Director with the Governor’s Office offered the following rule of thumb: as long as the trail you are considering is not a part of a State Park (which are closed until May 8, 2020) and the 6-foot social distancing rules are followed. Solorio urged runners to check each specific trail before setting out for a run, as some city parks have closed too. The US Forest Service is closing all developed recreational sites across Oregon and Washington. These closures include 24 million acres of forest, mountains, and coast in 17 national forests, two National Scenic Areas, a national grassland and two National Volcanic Monuments, Mount Saint Helens and Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Deschutes National Forest.
Local law enforcement’s strategy is to provide education first, if they were to see groups or get calls about groups of people in violation of the executive order and provide warnings if necessary, according to Lieutenant Kristina Jones, the Public Information Officer with the Portland Police Bureau. The police are asking members of the public to follow the order, resorting to issuing criminal citations only as a last resort. “ PPB appreciates everything our community members are doing to help save lives with us,” said Jones.
“Runners should still go running with the understanding that they can keep themselves and others safe when following recommended precautions,” says Angel Mathis MN, MPH, ARNP, RN, FNP-BC, a leading expert in COVID-19 response for outdoorists. Mathis is a healthcare provider, a public health expert, a vaccine researcher, founder of Boldly Went, an avid trail runner, and a thru-hiker. She feels that while Oregon and Washington are on stay-at-home orders, where people can still go outside for a run, daily exercise is healthy.
The most important part is to understand how COVID-19 spreads, which is thru close contact, droplets, and surfaces. In the case of runners, that amounts to gates, bathrooms, doors, and knobs. This virus can live on surfaces for up to three days. Close contact is defined as being with someone in a confined space for 15 minutes or more. That means, as mentioned earlier, no get-togethers. Another thing to note about runners is how we go about things – the snot rockets we blow regularly. Body secretions from your nose, mouth, and lungs are highly contagious in those who are actively infected, and since a person can be infected with COVID-19 without feeling ill for up to 14 days, it is extremely important to be mindful not to spray all over. Similar advice is offered by Eric J Lee, a Colorado-based infectious disease researcher, and ultrarunner. In a blog entry, Lee urges everyone to cover their mouths while coughing or sneezing and sanitize common areas, to prevent the unknowing spread of the disease by asymptomatic carriers.
When the organizers made the hard decision to cancel Badger Mountain 100, originally scheduled for March 28-29,2020, Anne Crispino-Taylor decided to roll with the punches. She plotted a 100k loop course over Mount Tabor, near her house in Southeast Portland. It included seven loops of the Blue Trail, a caldera loop with every one of those laps, an additional 2.5 miles, plus running from and to her house, which she used as an aid station. Having been an ultra runner since 2008, she wanted to get her usual trail fix and some dirt on her shoes, despite the pandemic closures.
She started early Saturday morning, having prepped potatoes, split pea soup and fruit nectar for when she returned home each time. As the gates to the park were locked, closing off vehicle access, Crispino-Taylor saw only other runners as she wound up and down Mount Tabor. Maintaining social distancing, she waved the usual runner’s greeting as she passed, successfully finishing her endurance challenge in 14 hours, 10 minutes. She says that having a warm house as an aid station was very nice, but also, very much lends itself to spend more time there every stop.
This pandemic is unlike we have seen in our lifetime, quite possibly unlike anything our parents or grandparents have seen in theirs – the size of our planet’s population, global accessibility, and current technology make today’s situation unique. While slow-on-the uptake response to this global crisis is concerning, and quite honestly reckless, it is encouraging to see that communities around the world have agreed to batten down the hatches and self-isolate. If trail running is a way to cope, to stay healthy and sane, please do it responsibly. Let’s try to collectively do what we can to aid the healthcare workers, stay home as much as we can and visualize the light at the end of the tunnel. Things may be getting better already, Crispino-Taylor said that “it was refreshing to see other runners, maybe that was a sign of people getting over the initial shock of all this.”