Running in a Face Mask

Runner wearing a face mask

I’ve never liked running with something covering my face – even when running in cold weather. Sure, I’ll stand around at a cold race start line with a buff over my face, but the second the gun goes off, I want my face uncovered.

Along with everything else, 2020 has resulted in one change to my running I never thought I’d see – me running in a face mask.

A few notes before I begin:

  1. I’m not going to argue for or against wearing a mask – you should wear one, at least whenever others are around. Yes, even if your city has an exercise exemption to mask rules and regulations.
  2. I’m also not going to get into the effectiveness of ‘buffs as mask’ debate. The study making the media rounds last week didn’t actually prove buffs are worse than wearing no mask at all. And, in any case, that would be a topic for a very different post and would require knowledge I don’t have.

In short… wear a mask when running.

Or wear a buff and pull it up over your nose and mouth when others are around and then pull it down again when you are alone. For the purposes of this post, I’ll refer to both as ‘running in a face mask.’

Now, with all that out of the way…

Running in a Face Mask

I’m the first to acknowledge running in a mask is super annoying, especially on hot days.

Sucking in your own hot air when it’s already in the 90s isn’t anyone’s idea of fun.

But running isn’t meant to be comfortable. Consider wearing a mask while running mental practice for dealing with discomfort and less than ideal running conditions.

To (hopefully) make it a little easier:

Find Less Populated Routes

If you are only going to wear a mask when others are around, the easiest way to run in a mask is to rarely have to wear it (a/k/a rarely have others around).

Find less popular running routes or run in the street to avoid congested sidewalks (assuming it is safe to do so).

This is the main method I’ve been using this summer. I’m ignoring popular (and crowded) running routes and instead running mostly down side streets. I’ve seen more of my neighborhood this summer than I have in the past 10 years I’ve lived here due to these random runs down random streets.

Pick Your Mask Wisely

Not all masks are created equal when it comes to running.

I tried running in a disposable mask once. Never again.

Some masks are made from performance materials with wicking properties. Some fit further away from your mouth, which can make it easier to breathe.

If you try one type of mask and don’t like it for running, try a different one.

Some options:

Full Disclosure: Of the above options, I’ve only personally tried the Boco Gear mask. 

Buffs (or other neck gaiters) are great for the up-and-down approach, but they usually fit tighter over your nose and mouth, which can make you feel hotter and more constricted.

Adjust Your Pace

When I leave the house for a run now, I consider two things – what the temperature is and what the temperature will feel like with a mask on. I don’t have an exact measure for this, but I’ve been figuring it will feel about 5-10 degrees hotter on my face.

Just like you’d do in hotter weather, adjust your run, and your pace, accordingly.

  • Run shorter distances.
  • Slow down and consider adding in additional walk breaks.

This is especially true if you are new to running in a mask. Your first few runs with a mask will feel a little awkward, so feel free to ignore your run stats for a bit.

Be More Aware of Your Fluids

Related to the extra heat of masked running – be extra aware of your fluids.

Pay more attention to your hydration needs both on the run and in life.

Consider carrying a water bottle on the run, even if you usually only carry a bottle for double-distance mileages or when it’s hot. Especially since public water fountains are no longer an option in most areas.

Focus on Breathing

While masks do not decrease the amount of oxygen you’ll get, they may affect how you breathe.

Under normal circumstances, I suggest breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth while running. However, running in a mask doesn’t count as ‘normal.’

In my experiments, what breathing method works best while wearing a mask differs based on which mask I’m wearing. With a buff, I find mouth breathing most effective. In my Boco mask, it’s easier to take long, slow breaths in and out of the nose.

Consider your usual breathing style and the type of mask you are wearing.

Try a few different breathing methods and find the one that feels the best and the most natural to you in a mask.

Remain aware of your breathing throughout your entire run.

Clean Your Mask Between Runs

You are breathing through your mask and sweating in it. It will get super gross super quick.

Treat your mask as if it were your shirt or your running bra.

Clean your mask regularly following the CDC mask cleaning guidance.

Treat Your Face

Maskne (breakouts due to wearing a mask) is a thing.

While it can be a problem for anyone who wears a mask (running or not), adding in the additional sweat from your run and problems become even more likely. Be kind to your face:

If maskne is an issue for you, consider these suggestions from the American Academy of Dermatology.

Stay safe out there

Runner wearing a face mask


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