5 Philly Running Pros’ Best Advice on Running with a Mask

Yep, you need to cover your mouth while you’re running near others. Here’s advice from Philly’s running pros on how to deal with that.

Jon Lyons, WE/FIT Director at City Fitness, running with a mask in Philly. | Courtesy of Jon Lyons.

Note as of August 12th, 2020: Health norms and best practices pertaining to COVID-19 are evolving as scientific research evolves. Please consider the most updated research when choosing a style of mask for public activities. For more updated information on the efficacy of a variety of masks, see our recent story here.

It’s time to put on a mask, people — and it’s been time since Tom Wolf called for universal masking back on April 3rd.  So why are we still seeing so many runners out there without a mask, buff, or any sort of barrier?

The guidance for Pennsylvania reads: “Members of the general public … are encouraged to wear homemade fabric or cloth masks. Homemade masks limit the spread of infectious droplets in the air by containing coughs and sneezes. When a homemade mask can’t be acquired a scarf or bandana can be utilized.” And, the guidance for the city reads: “You don’t need a mask to go for a walk, run, or bike ride alone or with someone else you live with as long as you stay at least six feet from others who are outside.”

That means if you’re running in a deserted area with other people not near you, then it’s not necessary to mask. However, since we are in Philly, many are running in the city past pedestrians and in close quarters on the SRT. In those cases, runners, cyclists, and walkers, would be within six feet of other people quite often, so a buff or other barrier from droplets would be beneficial for everyone’s safety, per government guidelines. (Here’s local medical experts’ advice on how to socially distance while exercising outside.)

Still have questions about how to run with your mask — or what type of mask is best to use? Here, five running pros weigh in on their running and masking habits, and their best advice on how to manage it.

Some people are still running around Philly without masks. So, one more time for the people in the back: we’re all wearing masks, right?

Jon Lyons, WE/FIT director at City Fitness: YES, HOLY HELL YES, SHOUTING FROM THE ROOFTOPS YES. Runners should be wearing masks (and literally anyone that considers themselves a human on earth). Whether it does or does not affect those around you is a moot point. The idea behind running with a mask is to normalize wearing a mask, not whether running with a mask is “effective.” It’s what we’re told we need to do by the most brilliant scientists in the world. So do it and stop complaining.

Takia McClendon, Cofounder of City Fit Girls: Yes. If you’re running on city streets or crowded paths, wearing a face covering of some sort can help protect people in your community. Also, we encourage runners to be respectful of pedestrians. Give people space, move to the side to let them pass and give a heads up if you’re running up on them from behind.

Jess Wayashe, Run Coaching and Group Instructor at Fitler Club: Yes, or at the very least, a buff or bandanna. When I am going outside to run, I don’t leave without a buff around my neck. I don’t necessarily wear it on my face for the entire run, but when I see someone approaching, or if I am passing someone, I will pull the buff up to cover my nose and mouth.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Philly 10K (@thephilly10k) on

Ryan Callahan, cofounder of the Philly 10K and Highline:  Yes. If you plan to run in a crowded area such as the river path, you owe it to yourself and others to run with some layer of protection. If you don’t want to run with a mask, try and find some secluded areas where you can run with minimal interaction. East and West Fairmount Park, away from the River Trail has been a great place to run with very few people around.  I would use something that is already built for breathability like a Buff or similar type of material. I’m using bandanas so I can have a little breathing room below my mouth to let some air in.

Liz Pagonis, Marketing and Outreach Director ar Philadelphia Runner: Yes. We’ve been following the CDC and government recommendations as they change. I think that if you’re going on a run where you know you’ll be passing people in spaces where you cannot maintain at least six feet between yourself and others (Hello SRT and Kelly Drive running path!) then you should be wearing a mask. Even when you have a mask on, it’s still important to avoid people and keep your distance.

Okay, so we’re all wearing masks. What type of mask or face covering can people wear to still run and breathe effectively?


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Takia McClendon (@takiamcclendon) on

Pagonis: Buffs and neck gaiters are great to wear on the run and can be used in a lot of other ways when we’re out of quarantine and social distancing. We recently brought in Zensah Performance Face Mask at Philly Runner and they sold out in hours without any promotion. We do have more coming but inventory is very limited. We’d recommend wearing a face mask or covering that is moisture wicking and breathable. (Philadelphia Runner also has a handy guide to making a mask out of race shirt.)

McClendon: We know that wearing a cloth mask makes it difficult to breathe, but there are other options. I’ve been using a buff during my runs but anything that is lightweight and can cover your nose and mouth should work. If I get to an intersection or stretch where no one is around, I take it down, get some fresh air and put it back up again. I’d recommend the Buff brand. They’re available online but you can also do curbside pick-up at Philly Runner. If you don’t want to buy something, cut up an old technical race shirt or use a bandana.

Lyons: I’ve been running with a buff. They don’t get swampy like the surgical masks that may be available, are super comfy, and are easily washable. They are a little pricey, but well worth the investment, especially in winter. I also have some DIY tee-shirt masks that I throw a coffee filter into. There are tons of tutorials online to make tee-shirt masks if dropping the money on a buff is not an option.

Jess Wayashe, run coach, personal trainer, and group instructor at Fitler Club, running with a Buff. | Photo courtesy of Jess Wayashe.

Wayashe: Of all the face covering options for outdoor exercise, I find that buffs are the most convenient and comfortable in terms of quick accessibility and material. You don’t have to worry about strings sitting uncomfortably on your ears, or worry about if it will come untied. Amazon has a lot of buff options, and even sells them in packs and different designs like THIS.

We know nobody wants to wear a mask. But it’s important that we do it. How can runners feel more positive about running with masks? 

McClendon: If nothing else, it makes us more resilient. The reality is that most local races have been cancelled or postponed so if your run has to be a little slower or includes more stopping than usual during the pandemic, that’s okay. If we do our part now to slow the spread, we will be closer to getting back to normal so we can run without coverings when training starts again.

Callahan: Anything that makes your running a little more challenging can be used as a mental training tool, in my opinion. You don’t have to love it but when the day comes where that mask comes off, your run is going to feel a little easier, kind of like a baseball player adding weights to his bat before he goes to bat (remember baseball?)

Photo courtesy of Liz Pagonis and Philly Runner.

Wayashe: In general, a buff is a very useful piece of gear for runners to use year-round. In the summer time, wearing a buff protects the back of your neck from sunburn (but still wear your sunscreen!) and on a hot day, you can keep yourself cool by soaking some water on it from your hydration pack or a public water fountain. The coolness of the water on the buff sitting on the back of your neck can aid in keeping your body temperature down on humid days. In the winter time, it can be a great layer and covering to keep your neck and face from being totally exposed to the chilly elements.

Lyons: If I may, I’m going to go super dad-mode on this one.The fact that we are able to run at all is enough of a reason to frame this positively! We could have had much worse restrictions placed upon us, but we are still able to go outside to exercise. THAT. IS. HUGE! Running has been my meditation throughout this whole quarantine experience. It’s a mask. It’s a few weeks out of your life. It’s honestly the minimum effort someone can put in during quarantine. It’s really not that bad, I swear. More importantly, it’s not about you or me, it’s about doing what’s right for everyone else. I’d put wearing a mask at about a three out of 10 on the “uncomfortableness scale” compared to marathon training. We got this.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Colin Lenton (@colinmlenton) on

Pagonis: Running or working out with a covering over your face can feel weird — it’s definitely something you have to adjust to. I like to think of all of the other things I’ve encountered or felt on the run. Every challenge has taught me something along the way and I think it’s made me a better, stronger runner too. I also remind myself that the mask is not just to protect me — it’s to protect everyone around me. It’s a little action that I can take that impacts my community — a community that I love and want to keep safe.

This story has been updated on Friday, May 1 at 9:00 a.m. 

Want to hear more from us? Join Be Well Philly at: