At the Grand Canyon Trail Half Marathon on Nov. 7, one of the few longer events scheduled to take place this fall in-person, participants will receive a neck gaiter as part of their race packets, says Randy Accetta, the race director. They must wear it or another facial covering at the start, and whenever they pass other runners en route.
(A recent, unpublished study of masks and gaiters concluded that three-ply cloth masks and gaiters block close to 60 percent of expelled aerosols during coughing, if the gaiter is folded into a double layer.)
Racers should plan, too, to carry a handkerchief and keep their mucus and spittle contained, says Bert Blocken, a professor of civil engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and KU Leuven in Belgium, who studies airflow, including during cycling and running events. In such races, he says, “it is well-known that saliva and snot flies around.”
Since those fluids could contain viral particles if the racer releasing them is infected, runners should not spit or blow their noses into the air, he says, and steer clear of any racers who do not comply.
In fact, distance and isolation are desirable throughout these races, he says. If you pass other runners, try to swing at least six feet wide, and preferably 15 feet or more, since respiratory particles are unlikely to float that far, he says. And avoid drafting behind other racers; their expired air congregates in the shoulder-wide slipstream behind them.
Of course, even with precautions in place, in-person racing cannot be risk-free. If you have concerns, consider contacting the race director and asking about race protocols, says Johanna Goode, the marketing director at RunSignUp, a company that handles registrations and other services for races around the country. Or “see if the race has a virtual option that will allow you to decide how to participate closer to the race date,” she says.
Some runners also may feel disheartened by the limits of today’s races. “We’ve had runners tell us they miss head-to-head racing,” Mr. Henderlong says. They mourn the loss of group sprints to the finish, “and having family cheering them on, high-fives, all of that.”