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Kaitlin Goodman is the Running COVID Crusader We Need

The elite runner is also a public health consultant.

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Pandemics have always ranked among Kaitlin Goodman’s greatest fears. That’s one reason why, alongside pursuing running at an elite level, she earned her master’s degree in public health at Brown University. She studied outbreaks in epidemiology class, and since her 2018 graduation, has balanced work as a public health consultant with training, racing, and coaching.

When Goodman’s nightmares became reality this past year, friends and family sought her help making sense of conflicting messages about the virus. So, the four-time Olympic Trials qualifier and 2:32 marathoner began using her social media accounts (she’s @runnerkg on Instagram and Twitter) to spread credible information. “In the era of fake news, you might wonder, who can you trust?” she says. “I’m trying to retweet or elevate the voices of scientists and other public health folks.”

Related: The COVID-19 Crisis: Runners on the Frontlines and (Virtual) Finish Lines

Goodman also crafts her own tweets and captions translating science into easy-to-understand, actionable messages for athletes. Back in August, when misleading headlines suggested neck gaiters used as masks increased virus risk, she debunked them, making sure to link to her sources. 

Now, on what she’s deemed #MaskMondays, she might post a masked selfie with her chocolate lab Moose, or an action shot demonstrating it’s possible to run fast with a face covering. She’s even contemplated a masked virtual race or challenge. It’s all part of showing runners that masking up is a minor inconvenience with a huge payoff of controlling the pandemic. 

In school and in life, Goodman has learned to approach sensitive health topics with care. She knows that shame doesn’t work to change behavior. Instead, she employs empathy, optimism, and humor—true to her tagline and the name of her coaching company, Running Joyfully—and draws on the shared language of sport. 

“No one’s following me for public health specifically—it’s a running account,” she says. “But that can be the avenue to connect with people. You need that common ground first before you can then have the harder conversations.”

Sure, she gets comments imploring her to “stay in her lane.” But other DMs demonstrate she’s making a difference. One follower wrote that she’d made the tough call to cancel her Thanksgiving travel plans after reading Goodman’s reminder of the repercussions for the overwhelmed health care system. “She said, your post really gut-checked me and reminded me, this is the right thing to do,” Goodman says. 

Her COVID crusading isn’t the first time Goodman has blended her athletic and public-health passions. After a near-miss with a distracted driver left her with a partially torn hamstring tendon in 2018, she launched Safe on the Road, a non-profit to promote pedestrian and cyclist safety. 

The pandemic has, paradoxically, brought this work to the forefront, as towns and cities closed streets to cars to make room for safe outdoor recreation. Goodman put together an eight-page guide to help people talk to their elected officials about the so-called open streets, including examples of cities where they’ve worked. 

Though these pedestrian-friendly pathways are critical for social distancing, she also hopes they’ll endure once the pandemic passes. “People will see, we’ve retaken the streets, and there’s value in that,” she says. 

She’s not yet sure what 2021 will bring for her running-wise—Goodman didn’t feel comfortable traveling or racing in 2020, but has her sights set on running the Olympic Track Trials this summer. Outside of racing, she’s hoping Safe on the Road can aid in more under-resourced communities, and is in the process of developing culturally competent resources, including Spanish translations. 

And of course, she’ll keep on promoting PPE as long as it’s needed. “I will die on the mask sword,” she says. “If you’re tired of hearing about it, you can unfollow, but I will keep posting about it until everyone’s wearing one.”

This profile was first published in the Winter 2021 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Women Who Lead: Power Women of 2021” which celebrates 25 women who are reshaping the running industry for the better. You can see the full list of honorees here.

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