Here’s How to Run With a Mask – Advice From Runners

You probably never thought you’d be asking how to run with a mask.

But this is 2020, and for many of us running with a mask is the only way to safely continue to exercise.

Update Note: the latest advice from WHO (dated 16th July 2020) is that people should not wear masks while performing exercise, as it may prevent them from breathing comfortably.

However, some runners may still feel more comfortable – or be legally required by their local legislation, to wear a mask while running outdoors.

This situation is ever-changing, with different restrictions in different countries.

For the most up-to-date information, keep visiting:

The World Health Organisation

The CDC (Center For Disease Control) Masks Advice page

I’ve been adapting to running around town with a mask on (hint: curb the sprint sessions), and spending more time on the trails too as we adapt to the new normal.

In this post, we’re going to dive into what it’s like running with a mask, as well as:

  • The best types of mask for running (material, fit)
  • What it feels like to run with a mask
  • Exactly how to run with a mask – and how to adjust your workouts
  • When you should wear a mask if you’re a runner
  • Tips and advice from experienced runners who have been training with a mask.

But at the same time, life must go on. 

You still have your health to maintain, your marathon to train for, and your mental health to preserve. 

So asking how to run with a mask is a great question. 

Why to Wear a Mask While Running

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) strongly advises everyone to wear masks when they are around anyone outside their family or roommates. A mask protects you from inhaling respiratory particles of the virus. 

What’s more, many regions, states and countries have made masks mandatory when out in public.

It also prevents others from breathing in your germs, in case you are a carrier. 

Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms of the Coronavirus, you could be unknowingly carrying the disease. The University of Oxford sponsored a study that found that 18-80% of positive Coronavirus cases were totally asymptomatic. 

That’s why it is of the utmost importance to wear a mask when out in public – if not for your own sake than for others. 

best masks for running

When to Wear a Mask

Different states and countries have different guidelines when it comes to wearing masks outdoors, so you should definitely check out those rules in your area. 

Here’s the main question to ask yourself when deciding if you should wear a mask while running: will it be possible for me to practice social distancing during my run?  

If you’re running in a remote area where you’re unlikely to come across many people, you may not need to wear the mask – depending on where you live.  

But if you’re on a popular trail or in a park buzzing with people, it will be impossible to stay 6 feet apart.

During the quarantine, it’s recommended to isolate as much as possible. But we still need human contact from time to time. 

That’s where social distance hangouts come in. A great way to connect with your friends during the quarantine is by walking, running, or cycling outside together. 

So if you decide to go running with a friend who is not your family or a roommate, you should both wear masks for optimum protection. 

There’s another group of people who have to be even more careful when it comes to masks: essential workers. 

Health professionals or grocery store employees should absolutely wear a mask any time they’re in public. 

If you live with someone who is older or at risk of the virus in some way, you should wear a mask when running for their sake. 

Does Running With a Mask Count as Hypoxic Training?

Not quite, unfortunately.

To be clear, hypoxic training is essentially what happens when you train at altitude – the air you inhale contains less oxygen, forcing changes in your body. Over time, your body can adapt to training in an oxygen-depleted environment, and you can take these performance gains back to regular environments with good results.

However, face coverings and masks – whether altitude training masks or the cloth masks we’ve all been sporting recently – work differently. They simply restrict air flow, meaning your lungs have to work harder. The air your lungs receive has the same oxygen content.

So, while running with a mask is not a form of hypoxic / altitude training, you are actually giving your lungs a boost by placing an extra stressor on them.

The Best Masks for Running

All masks are not created equal, especially when it comes to running.

Some are more breathable, while others practically suction to your face, causing it to fill up with moisture and sweat too quickly. 

Even though I live in a quiet neighborhood where it’s easy to run without coming across many people, I tested out a few different masks to see which one worked the best during my run. 

The Best Out of Three Choices

Here were the 3 masks I tried out:

1. A disposable surgical mask

2. A homemade cotton mask

3. A bandana

The 3-ply surgical mask filled up with unpleasant sweat and mucus right away. It was an especially hot day, so I wasn’t able to wear that mask for long at all. 

The cotton mask was a little better, since it is homemade and doesn’t fit my face so tightly. I still had to slow down my pace quite a bit, since breathing doesn’t come as easily with a thick piece of cloth in the way. 

Out of the three, the bandana was the most comfortable. 

Since it’s only folded in half one time, the fabric was much thinner than the cotton mask. The bottom of the bandana opened at my neck. 

It still blocked my breath from escaping to other people’s breathing space. But it allowed me some room to breathe more freely. 

I did have trouble keeping it up since it was tied with a simple knot in the back, but the breathing quality is more important to me than convenience. 

Moisture-Wicking Masks

While the bandana was the most efficient for breathing, there’s still room for improvement. Many athletic stores are selling moisture-wicking masks specifically for intense exercise. 

If you plan to run with a mask frequently, you may want to consider buying one made of moisture-wicking cloth that will eliminate more unwanted moisture. 

How to Run With a Mask: Tips for Success

running masks - how to run with a mask, the best mask for running

You might be able to get used to the extra dampness as you run, but there are some dangers involved in running with a mask. 

As you run more, you breathe more heavily, which means you could inhale the wetness and end up choking. 

But the most imminent potential danger is the interference with your breathing. 

Breathing is already a critical aspect of running; you should always focus on inhaling and exhaling steadily to avoid hyperventilating. 

So here are some tips on how to run with a mask in a safe and conscious way. 

Run Slower

Let’s face it. You won’t be able to break your personal record while wearing a mask. Just lower your pace to the point where you can take smooth, clear breaths. 

You shouldn’t run out of oxygen in the middle, and you shouldn’t bring the cloth into your mouth as you inhale. 

Regulate Your Breathing

Don’t panic when you first start running. It’s shocking at first to feel the discomfort at the beginning of the run. 

Many people actually give up right away, saying it’s just too uncomfortable and feels like they’re choking. 

But the first few moments are the hardest. Use them to establish a system that helps you manage the mask. 

Regulating your breathing is essential. Count the seconds you inhale, match them to the seconds you exhale. Short breaths are fine, as long as they’re even and steady. 

Bring Extra Water

Drinking more water will refresh you and keep your momentum going. Be sure to bring a little more than you would normally drink. 

If you don’t usually bring water on a short run, just grab a small bottle. You can even get a belt or vest that will hold it so you can run hands-free. 

Distract Yourself: Focus on Enjoying Your Environment

Once you’ve established your breathing system, try to divert your attention to the scenery around you, the music you’re listening to, or your wandering thoughts. 

The distraction will make the whole process enjoyable, instead of dwelling on the giant piece of cloth in front of your face. 

Don’t slip the mask under your nose. 

It’s tempting to shift the mask down to free your nose, but it really defeats the purpose of wearing the mask. 

You’re still putting your breath out into the air, making it possible for others to get infected. 

If you really need to catch your breath, stop running for a minute or two, find a quiet space where no-one else is around, and – if you feel it’s safe to do so – pull down your mask for a few seconds.

Alternative Tips for Running During Coronavirus

Choose routes as far away from people as possible. 

Now is a good time to do some trail running. You can also do some cross-training methods, like hill sprints or bodyweight workouts

These will all strengthen your running endurance while keeping that critical social distance from others. 

Run during ‘off times.’ 

Most run in the early evening from 5-9 PM, or in the morning from 7-10 AM. You’ll encounter way fewer people if you get up with the sunrise or exercise after 9 PM

Besides, the weather will be much cooler, making your run more comfortable. So adjust your routine a bit to beat the crowds and heat. 

Get Creative With Your Running Solutions

Running during Corona forces all of us into thinking outside the box. A man in New Hampshire ran a full marathon in his back yard. 

Many public races have been canceled, introducing virtual races as a new trend. 

People are leaving the cities and staying in the countryside now, to get away from the virus and allow them to keep up their exercise routines. 

If you’ve been training for a race and your plans were altered because of the Coronavirus, you may need to sit down and adjust your running schedule to fit the situation. 

Download one of our customizable marathon or half marathon training plans and don’t let this new situation stop you from reaching your goals.  

Running Masks You Can Buy Today

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Mia Kercher

Mia Kercher

Mia Kercher is a hiker, cyclist, and runner. After finishing her first marathon in 2013, she continued the sport but found a new passion in trail running. She now explores the glorious mountains in Portland, Oregon where she works as co-founder of Evoke.

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