This week, the Quebec government begins easing physical distancing policies in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, including re-opening retail businesses despite the province accounting for more COVID-19 cases than all other Canadian provinces combined.
Race organizers in the province have officially cancelled or delayed their events until at least August 31, similar to other provinces across the country, opting for virtual races as replacements. That said, recreational runners across La Belle Province will soon begin to run on the province’s roads and trails in greater numbers as the weather warms this spring into summer, heightening the risk of further spikes in infections and fatalities.
“People are being really careful with the reopening as it’s not like our COVID cases are going down at all,” says Olympian Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, one of Canada’s premiere middle distance racers, born and based in Quebec City. “What I fear is that by forcing reopening like that, I anticipate people having this weird feeling of hostility to keep distance in public places which will make day-to-day activities uncomfortable and creepy.”
Understandably, runners across the province and elsewhere in the country feel caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of venturing out for a run these days; do the myriad physical and mental benefits of running outdoors outweigh the risk of contracting a disease as virulent and life-threatening as the coronavirus?
André Mollema, an Ottawa Paramedic who also services those in need in Quebec, just across the Ottawa river, says running provides essential emotional and mental relief from the rigours of his job. He works with Team Awesome at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon and is very involved with our sport.
“I love to run. It’s the best prescription to deal with the stress of being a paramedic, and on the home front as a husband and father of three kids, especially right now when we’re all stuck at home,” he says.
Terry SanCartier, an avid runner from Gatineau, looking to complete his 100th marathon before turning 50 in late November, found he had no choice this spring but to run virtual races to stay on track and complete his goal.
“Before the pandemic, I never even considered a virtual race,” SanCartier says.
That said, Sancartier still feels the same nervous anticipation before running a virtual race as he does when competing in the real thing. He also makes sure to adhere to proper social distance policies. “I prefer going out when the weather is less than ideal and fewer people to avoid. I keep more than the standard 2-metre distance and I try and hold my breath as I go past other people,” he says.
Marie-Eve Lessard, a competitive runner and leader of a small running group in the Val-Bélair area of broader Québec City is especially worried about how easing social distancing policies in the province will affect the physical and mental health of frontline workers in the medical community. “I’m just afraid that frontline workers in hospitals will burn out and won’t be able to do their job.”
The entire country will be watching Quebec’s reopening, as things like the situation in Montreal and the schools getting back in session remain fluid, and scary, day after day. For his part, Philibert-Thiboutot feels like non-runners will feel more of an impact from the reopening than runners. And he echoes a sentiment shared by the Globe & Mail health reporter Andre Picard, based in Montreal, who thinks what all of us facing social distancing provisions need is the same solution—more open space.
“Some people have been hostile to runners which in a way I can understand; if you are older, you don’t want to catch COVID from a runner,” he says, adding that his coach believes small track meets may soon open up. “However, having travelled around the world, Quebec drivers are by far the least courteous I know, and even if some 4-lane boulevards are void of traffic, drivers still get mad at bikers/runners/walkers having to go in the street to keep a safe distance.
“The only issue I can see with Quebec’s reopening is how the roads will start having traffic again, putting runners, bikers and walkers more at risk.”
I’m “glad” to see others feel the same as I do.
This reinforces the notion that running is a privilege for us so let us all give a wide berth when we can do so safely and thank those who create space for us. Simple gestures that do not cost anything.
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