The nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in less traffic, less air pollution and, less predictably, a growing running population.
In this time of self-isolation, jogging around the neighborhood has become for many Japanese the primary motivation to get out of the house and get some fresh air. Those overseas, however, are facing stricter rules.
In Malaysia, 11 joggers, including four Japanese, were arrested for ignoring the movement control order late last month, and in Paris a ban on jogging and all physical exercise between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. came into effect on April 8.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to cut social interactions by 70 to 80 percent. In general, people have been urged not to socialize with anybody outside their family unit, but Abe said walking and jogging are fine.
As more people turn to running, there are a lot of questions about how to do it safely. Health experts say your risk of infection from outdoor exercise is low, but some still say a distance from others of two meters is not enough when you are moving fast, spreading the virus in the air.
On Sunday, a 34-year-old housewife jogging with her husband, who has been teleworking, around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo said, “I can keep some distance (from other runners here). I can also relieve my stress.”
Yuki Kawauchi, winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon, urges runners to stay 2 meters apart to help prevent infection. Kawauchi said he avoids crowded parks and goes out for solo runs along rivers.
Tetsuhiko Kin, a professional running coach, has seen “so many people running who don’t normally run,” saying that he has noticed runners at all times of the day.
Kin launched a website for beginner runners that offers playlists to help them synchronize their running to music and find a suitable rhythm or pace.
“Please keep your distance from others and run alone. Let’s stay healthy and we’ll get through this crisis together,” Kin said.
Koji Wada, a professor working in the public health field at the International University of Health and Welfare in Tochigi Prefecture, thinks there is no need to ban all outdoor activities, saying, “There’s no problem with walking and jogging as long as it’s not in a crowd.”
But some researchers overseas have come to the conclusion that the minimum safe distance for runners should be at least 10 meters because of the risk of catching droplets of moisture from those nearby.
Shinya Yamanaka, who heads the Center for iPS Cell Research Application at Kyoto University, addressed runners in a YouTube video where he encouraged them to wear masks even though he knows it could feel suffocating.
“Let’s demonstrate social etiquette and wear a mask when running,” he said, showing how to use a scarf in lieu of a surgical face mask.
With the next few months of Japan’s competitive running calendar looking fairly empty as coronavirus-related restrictions take hold, more runners — professionals and everyday athletes — are hitting roads and trails.
In late March, Kawauchi used Twitter to reach out to his fellow runners to collect information on what runners around the world can and cannot do in their respective countries.
“In Japan, we’re not fined for jogging. We should be grateful for an environment that allows us to run if we are respectful to each other, and use this time to take up new challenges, analyze past training programs and for self-reflection,” Kawauchi said.
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