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Commentary: Keep running, but do so solo and at a distance

Commentary: Keep running, but do so solo and at a distance

From the A collection of the Daily Sun's coronavirus coverage series
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So the other day I was running on the streets of Flagstaff in the early morning -- well, early for me, 7 o’clock -- my exhalations pillowy billows of condensation. I thought nothing of it; just another early spring trot in the chill.

There I was, on University Avenue near the Target parking lot, when I noticed a lone figure walking toward me on the sidewalk. In normal times (remember bygone those days?), I would have scooched to the far side of the sidewalk, or even step into the gutter, to let the pedestrian pass. Common courtesy, and all that.

Now, given our social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus outbreak, I wanted to be a good citizen -- a good running citizen. Well before the young woman got close, I veered into the street, making sure to check for traffic first, the chilled vaper of my breath trailing me. I didn’t have a tape measure handy, but I was pretty sure I had at least 6 feet between me and the pedestrian.

Yet, as we passed and before I was able to give my customary good-morning head nod, she gave me major side-eye and a sneer.

I had been rebuked, clearly. This person, probably walking to work at Northern Arizona University, perhaps felt I was putting her in danger by doing something so frivolous as exercising. Granted, my breath was visible in the cold clime, and I do tend to drool a bit on chilly runs when my face goes numb, but I was observing the 6-foot limit nonetheless.

While running, and other forms of solo outdoor activities, is not prohibited under Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order, and while parks and trails remain open for runners, hikers and mountain bikers, we have reached a point in our response to the contagion in which we need to exercise an abundance of caution when we exercise.

I could empathize with that pedestrian. Really, I could.

So much is unknown about the coronavirus, after all, but even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s lead coronavirus expert, still gets his daily runs in.

A few days before my University Avenue incident, I experienced emotions similar to side-eye woman. I was running on Woody Mountain Road, the dirt-path part headed toward the arboretum, when runners four abreast came cruising past me. Now, maybe these lads live together and thus, are OK to run as one under the new social etiquette, but how was I to know that? I didn’t dare say anything — four against one, right? — but in my mind I gave these dudes major side-eye.

All of which is to say that we runners in Flagstaff need to be on our best behavior these days, lest new, even more draconian restrictions are implemented and we lose the privilege to run out of doors. So much else has been taken away from the public that we don’t want to blow it here. Plus, of course, avoiding running in groups and staying well away from other people can, literally, save lives.

Flagstaff, as we all know, is a running hotbed — part of the town’s identity, one could argue — so this is not a negligible issue.

And, for the most part, what I’ve seen around town from the running community has been heightened vigilance. For instance, on my run up Tunnel Springs Trail to Mars Hill, I passed two runners and a hiker with her dog. Two of the three were coming toward me, so there was plenty of time and space (the trail is way wide) to observe the 6-foot rule. And when I came up behind one hiker, I observed routine trail protocol and said, loudly, “on your left” and made a wide swing around.

Where it becomes an issue, both on the trails and roads, for runners is when space is tighter. Say you’re on a singletrack, Schultz Creek Trail, for instance. It’s impossible to stay 6 feet away.

What to do?

A good rule of thumb comes from Trail Runner magazine: “Since most singletrack is less than 6 feet wide, you might have to step off the trail slightly to allow others to pass (avoid running off-trail, as that will make it harder to prevent environmental damage than simply stepping off) and avoid stepping on delicate plants or soil. Stable rocks, if you can find them, are a safe bet. If you feel that trails are too crowded to pass safely, consider running at a different time or in a different place.”

Avoid busy trailheads. Seek out the less popular spots.

Last Saturday, my car was the only one parked at the Sandy Seep Trailhead at the base of Mount Elden. I passed nary a soul in a 90-minute run. In other words, now may not be the time to go to popular spots such as Buffalo Park or Fort Tuthill County Park.

What about the FUTS? Run at non-busy times, such as early morning, to avoid the crowds. If you can’t swing that, then do your best to observe distancing measures.

You still may get the occasional side-eye, but you will have made an effort at least.


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