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College freshman starts 'Masked Mile' challenge to show it's easy to breathe in a mask

After realizing he could hike in a N95 mask, Madhav Bhat wore a mask while running a mile to show doubters that activities in masks are safe and easy.
/ Source: TODAY

After a day of hiking outside of Greenville, South Carolina, while wearing a N95 mask, Madhav Bhat, realized that the mask wasn’t holding him back. He had been hearing a lot of people complaining about wearing masks and he wanted to do something to show that a few pieces of fabric won't stop people from enjoying the activities they love. So he laced up his running shoes and headed to the high school local track with some friends to run a what he calls the #maskedmile.

“I put two and two together and I was like, ‘You know I bet I can run with the mask on,’” the 18-year-old from Greenville, South Carolina, told TODAY. “We shot a video of me running the mile so that people know that it was safe, I didn’t pass out in the middle or didn’t take the mask off.”

After realizing that he could wear a N95 mask while hiking, Madhav Bhat and some friends wore a mask to run a mile, starting the #maskedmile challenge. Courtesy Rajan Chitrao

Bhat ran track during high school and he remembered that in 2010 a runner won a long-distance race while wearing a mask because of allergies. So Madhav knew it was possible. Running is his favorite way to exercise and being able to use something he loves to encourage others to wear masks seemed like a real win.

“This is helping to normalize mask wearing just a little bit more,” he said.

Often he hears people worrying that wearing a mask causes them to develop a build up of carbon dioxide, which he knows is a myth. That’s why he hoped he could show how safe they were.

“One of the main arguments against a mask is that you're breathing in a large enough self-produced carbon. And so if you are actually doing that, you would be dead within five minutes,” he said. “You're breathing pretty hard when you’re running and so if you were actually breathing carbon dioxide then you'd be done.”

Two sisters competed in the #maskedmile challenge - and clocked in at a seven-minute mile.Courtesy Kayla Burrell

After he shared his video with the #maskedmile he garnered local media attention and soon others joined. Some people walked their miles, others biked — and some ran more than a mile, like a runner who did six miles.

“You can do whatever you want with the challenge,” Bhat said. “The message is that you can do an activity with the mask.”

After Madhav Bhat ran a #maskedmile several of his friends and neighbors started to do their own runs in masks. But people got creative with some riding a bike, walking or even running more than a mile, all while wearing a mask. Courtesy Lily Taylor

Bhat, who is going to the University of Michigan this year to study engineering, wants to dispel mask misinformation. While a lot of people balk at the idea of government mandated mask wearing, he notes that a lot of people wear seatbelts and abstain from drunk driving — at the government’s request. He sees mask wearing as yet another way people can be responsible.

“It’s about being considerate to others. I’m looking out for other people,” he said. “It is not just about doing it for yourself. It’s a big deal for other people that may not be able to care for themselves, the people who are immunocompromised.”