Why we all need to run 'The Road Not Taken' now

What Robert Frost's most famous poem teaches us about social distancing, plus real-turned-virtual races you can run between now and December

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

If you’ve ever taken a middle-school English literature class, you (of course!) recognize these words from the final stanza in Robert Frost’s most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

Frost’s haunting words popped into my mind this week after a conversation I had with my wife, about an article she saw earlier this week on a Belgian study that suggests runners and cyclists need to keep a distance from other people of significantly more than the six feet we’ve all grown accustomed to.

How much farther, exactly? The results of the study — which was not peer-reviewed and has received significant criticism, let me add — says we may need to keep as much as 60 feet away from people bicycling outside, and perhaps as much as 30 feet away from other runners.

Whether or not those numbers are correct, the study raises an interesting question: the guideline for staying six feet away from others when we’re outside is based on the expectation of people standing or sitting — not someone in motion.

It’s not a huge leap to conclude that when you’re moving, like when you participate in vigorous exercise, you exhale more strongly. Which, most likely, means that water droplets from your breath disperse more widely in the space around you.

In this morning’s New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds digs into the details of the study, finding (perhaps most interestingly) that its authors found little side-to-side dispersal of water droplets that could carry coronavirus:

“The respiratory droplets clustered in the long, narrow corridor of the athlete’s wake, which was about the width of his shoulders.

The implication of these findings, Dr. Blocken says, is that to keep social distance, runners and walkers should swing well wide when passing other people and not cut back sharply in front of them after passing.

‘Be nice and wait awhile before you move back in front of anyone,’ Dr. Blocken told me, preferably spacing yourself at least 15 feet or more in front.”

Don’t miss this point: the study’s authors aren’t claiming that runners or bikers are a potential point source of infection. They studied the path respiratory droplets take in the air — and didn’t study specifically whether “running or walking closely behind someone increases your risk of being exposed to dangerous germs,” as Reynolds notes.

Still, their results reinforce the idea that we all need to pay close attention to how close we get to one another when we’re out in public, running past one another.

From my own experience these past few weeks, I’ve been pretty good about keeping a safe distance from everyone else — but I also don’t want to get hit by a car either, so on rare occasions I’ve probably run a little too close on occasion to others on the sidewalk.

But that’s probably not good enough. (After all, as Frost would tell us in the closing line from another of his famous poems, we all have “miles to go before we sleep” in this effort.)

So, I’m going to be looking for routes I can run that don’t bring me into close proximity with others wherever and whenever I can. Because, I’m truly loving running right now (later today, I hope to extend my 27-day running streak), but the last thing I want to do is endanger anyone.

We’re not where any of us would like to be, that’s for sure. But as Tennyson writes in his famous “Ulysses,” we are where we are — and that’s okay:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

How are you finding creative ways to get your runs in right now, and stay safely far away from others? Are you running places you never would have before?

I’d love to hear your story.

Your friend,

— Terrell

Don’t forget, you can follow us on Instagram and share photos of your daily runs while we’re all stuck at home — tag your photos with the hashtag #myruntoday, or tag me at @halfmarathons_net.

Follow us on Instagram

Who’s up for running a virtual 10K together this weekend? This will be super informal — you don’t need to sign up anywhere, and it’s totally free — just do these three things:
1) Run a 10K anywhere you are this weekend, April 18 or 19
2) Post a photo of your run (or yourself)
3) Tag us (@halfmarathons_net) in your photo
And that’s it! I’ll put together an IG story with all your photos, and we can all chat here in the comments.
Really looking forward to this — and to running virtually with each of you!
#myruntoday #10krun #runeveryday #runeverywhere #virtualrun #virtualrunning
April 15, 2020

Virtual races in 2020

Still I Run RunStreaking for Mental Health. In conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month all through May, the Still I Run community hosts this running streak challenge. Sign up, run at least a mile a day between the 1st and the 31st, and get access to a private Facebook group where you’ll get encouragement from other participants and a place to talk.

Harpoon 5-Miler Virtual Run. This 19-year-old race in Boston had to cancel its in-person event this year, but you can still help them raise money for the Angel Fund, a nonprofit that supports ALS research. The race is strongly discouraging locals from running the official route, and instead encouraging people to run wherever they are, as long as it’s 5 miles — and, of course, to celebrate with a Harpoon beer after it’s done.

Hollie Sick, an experienced runner (and all-around amazing person!) who writes for us frequently, made a great point in our live discussion last week:

“I have race director friends and they say the growth of new virtual races has taken away from in-person-turned-virtual races. They won’t be able to put on the in-person events next year because of it.”

With that in mind, here are some real-turned-virtual races you can run in the next few months:

Great running reads

Running in Place With Alexi Pappas. A reporter who lives in Brooklyn plans to run this Saturday with Pappas, an Olympian who’s training for the 2021 Games in Greece. How, exactly, are they going to do this? Via Zoom, of course — the two plan to talk about running, how Pappas is adjusting her training in this highly unusual time, and the future of the sport. I plan to attend (virtually) to hear what she has to say — it takes place at 1 p.m. ET this Saturday. Hope you can join!

You Probably Don’t Need to Wear a Mask When You Run. On my daily runs over the past few weeks, I’ve seen plenty of people running but only one wearing a mask while they ran. This article digs into the reasons why it may not be effective — “as soon as the mask gets wet, it’s not going to be effective anymore,” one doctor said — and why keeping a safe distance from others when you exercise outdoors is an absolute must.

Chasing Your Trail Running Potential Takes Years, So Keep Believing. A really interesting look at how to approach training when there’s no race on the calendar (a reality for us all right now!). As famed running coach David Roche, who with his wife Megan penned last year’s The Happy Runner, says in the post, “the goals themselves don’t matter all that much. What matters is embracing the purposeful daily/monthly/yearly process that can support growth far beyond those goalposts.”

6 Rules for Staying Active During a Pandemic. It’s probably never been more important than right now that we all get enough exercise to stay mentally well. But there are more obstacles in the way of doing that now than ever. This piece offers some helpful ways to create habits and routines to get the exercise you need, rather than having to push yourself every time you need to get your ya-ya’s out.

A song to run to today

Light of Day” from the album In Concert/MTV Plugged by Bruce Springsteen.

Want to hear all the songs we include in our newsletters? Listen to the full playlist on Spotify here.