Sunday, March 29, 2020

To run or not to run, that is the question. More than ever...

This is a pressing question within our running community these days, in the midst of this behemoth pandemic and global health crisis our current generations are facing (I'm not saying it's the biggest, not to compare with so many wars or refugee crisis, but that's one which is "hitting home" around the world). And not just a metaphysical question, we have to make the right choices.

I'm not talking about the ongoing debate, is running is good for you or not in absolute. Surely, extreme running might have consequences. And no exercise at all, isn't good either. Some conditions also exclude running because of its pounding for instance.

First, a disclaimer, I'm not a doctor. Not even trained in the field of physiology. Worse, I'm probably reading too much, meaning too much uniformed opinions, creating all sort of bias. But since this blog is about running, and my personal experience of it... So here you are with the classic social media disclaimer, all my opinions and views are, well, my own... ;-)

Second disclaimer, I've never learned or practiced speech debate; there must be zillions more arguments to be made on both sides. Ok, maybe not zillions, but at least a dozen.

Third disclaimer, I don't even have time to spend hours aiming to create a complete thesis (or anti-thesis). I read on social media people complaining about all the time they get and how bored they get with confinement. For me, outside of, well, running... my life was already extremely digital, so it's just getting worse... Yet, it's an important topic and I felt important to at least spark a conversation about the issue.

With that, let's... ready... set... go!

Some of the benefits of running during our current fight against COVID-19

  1. "Mens sana in corpore sano" - At 79, Dr. Fauci exemplifies this Roman sentence by allegedly keeping running 3.5 miles every day, even while managing this overwhelming crisis, not just on the medical and scientific side by the way, but the political, communication and leadership issues too. This morning we learned about the German Finance Minister, Thomas Schaeffer, committing suicide apparently, or officially actually, on worries about the financial consequences of this coronavirus pandemic, falling in front of a train in despair.
  2. Breathing fresh air. Yes, I said, fresh, not contaminated. But also another fresher air than the place you are confined into. Of course, that assumes that you are able to keep enough distance from other people (I much prefer #PhysicalDistancing, as we actually need to remain caring for others and close socially).
  3. Getting some sun light. Our body needs a lot of it! Not to point of burning our skin of course but to synthesize Vitamin D from the cholesterol in our skin cells, an essential vitamin for our health. As much as I disagree with the father of Western States' political views, I fully respect Gordy Ainsleigh's radical position on the benefit of running in the sun (and I realize not everybody is blessed with our amount of sunlight in California, but light still goes through clouds!).
  4. Unplugging. Running outside is a great excuse to unplug from social medias, or from the extreme pressure of physical confinement. That's assuming you are not running while listening to the news. You can also unplug by walking, but then don't get your 
  5. Moving. Staying put at home, either because working for hours glued to your laptop and video conferences, or because you can't work at all, is really bad for our body. We can't all turn into couch potatoes, right? We need to get the blood flowing, the muscles to contract or stretch, solicit these healthy lungs. Running does all that at once!
  6. Sweating out. Sure, you can have a good sweat by jumping in front of your tv, but that's not the most natural way to do it. Although it was a while ago, men were born to run. To hunt for food. To move from one place to another. To escape danger. Too late to meet Caballo Blanco in person, but not to read or re-read... Born to Run as a great and entertaining reminder.
  7. Staying in shape. We don't know how long this is going to last. If it was only a few days, then we won't lose much of our conditioning
  8. Long-term immunity. I don't have a particular scientific proof or study on this but us, runners, are certainly reporting being more resistant to sickness over time. Closing the dots with the first point above, corpore sano...
A few cons of running during our current fight against this corona virus
  1. Virus effect acceleration. Second but even more importantly, exercising if you carry the virus and are about to show symptoms can kill you! One of my sisters, MD on the front light of the COVID-19 fight in France, warned me about this risk, last weekend. One of her colleagues, MD too, has a son in his 30s and he thought he would lose him to COVID this week. His son was coughing a bit and, like any runner, at least me, thought it would help to go for a run, that it would make him feel better afterwards. Well, the dormant virus literally exploded through his lungs and he had to get hospitalized that same night. This week we also heard about a pro cyclist in the US getting into critical conditions. The problem is that you/we don't know if we cary the virus or not. I certainly don't know for sure after flying to France, Austria, Israel, New York City this winter and coming back from a conference in Vegas, 3rd week of February, with a bad cough and inflamed lungs... I can't wait to be tested for the presence of antibodies, although I read about an inconclusive study conducted in Wuhan... 
  2. Immunity deficiency. How dare I to bring up this point while I finished the list of supporting arguments with the fact that running increases our immunity? It's a complicated matter and this article from the US National Library of Medicine for instance is not too conclusive either way. But it does mention, and it's common sense to believe it, that a strong and prolonged effort will eventually fatigue your body, including its immune system, during or right after it.  The lesson here is that, and it was well known before, strenuous exercise will likely first lower/weaken your immunity before boosting it. Not a good time to play with your immune system when going shopping for essential food for instance!
  3. Opportunity to breach #PhysicalDistancing. Sure, it's very noble to run alone but not everybody can do it without getting close to others in the process. Where I live, streets are always quiet and even more so now, side walks are large, so not much of a problem. But think of those who live in large and dense cities. Never seeing someone when you take the elevator? Not touching a door to go outside or come back? In Paris they had to close the city parks because there was no way people were walking or running always 6 feet or more away from other people. Should we mention that we, runners, exhale more than anyone else, so much than 6 feet aren't even enough? Guess what folks are doing in Paris? Running on the narrow sidewalk around the parks, even worse. In Italy, the authorities had to forbid all sort of exercise, period. And it was too late. Do we have too much freedom in a few of our societies preventing us from making the right call?
  4. Injury. Rarely, but bad things can happen when we run on remote and technical trails. When it doesn't, and assuming you can make it back to your car, it's usually no big deal for a trip to the hospital if blood is involved. Well, NOT NOW, bad idea.
  5. Breaching #PhysicalDistancing. To alleviate the risk of running alone in case something happens, we used to promote the social and safety benefits of running with buddies. Well, NOT NOW either!

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor, possible text that says 'people normally people during quarantine'

My point of view...

  1. I still show more reasons for running than against it, please chime in to add to both sides.
  2. I'd say though that it's certainly not the right time to get into running! For many years, I did everything I could to promote the benefits of running and get more folks to join the movement. My rant of last weekend was about the timing. The very first weekend everybody was asked to respect #PhysicalDistancing, crowds of people usually staying inside (home, movies, bars, shopping malls) thought it was a smart idea to gather on single track trails... Duh! Hiking on remote trails require some skills too, to learn about the potential dangers (rattle snakes, poison oak, dehydration, orientation).
  3. We, runners, and most especially ultra runners, have to dial down. First personally, just don't run as much, don't go on remote trails, it's not the time to risk your lungs, an essential organ for running, and don't risk getting injured. Second, let's not brag about it socially. Sure, I get that pictures of flowers or hills can bring some fresh air to readers, but it's also an invitation to break the shelter-in-place orders. If some do it, why not me. For that, I apologize for my previous post. My only consolation or excuse is that I could see and write about the issue, which has then be relayed in the medias at the beginning of the week and led to the closure of most parking lots at local parks. But I still hear about people driving to parks and that's not what "essential travel" is meant for. Again, I got caught myself...
  4. For that, I will not race virtual events until the SIP orders are in effect, and not drive to run. I'm still running around the block, and much less than usual, hoping the excess of others won't lead our Governors to prevent even going out as it has been the case in China, Israel or Italy eventually.

What do you think? Well, I'm not asking what you think of the measures in place in general, if you are in the denier camp which is still so active in the US. To you, I'd say this: unfortunately, I don't see a win-win. If we don't act swiftly, what some people call over-reacting, then we can have a humanitarian catastrophe (I think we already have the proof we haven't done all we could have learned from other countries but let's see how worse this is potentially becoming). If we contain the pandemic then the deniers will say "see, there was nothing to brag about." If we don't, then we both lose anyway. That's what baffles me the most, that this pandemic still exacerbate so much division. I'm sad with the impact on our running world, but nothing in comparison with the gravity of this societal issue. Again, just asking for what you think about the limitation on running we need to exercise during such a pandemic.

1 comment:

Jeff Eisenman said...

Jean, I think you've already set an example. My inference, from your Strava, is that most of your activities, including travel, originate close to your home/hotel.