How COVID Has Changed Everything – Including the Way We Run

Just over a year ago, runners’ lives (and the lives of everybody else) were thrown into disarray when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Businesses closed, gyms shuttered, and social distancing mandates forced most runners to adjust their routines. One year later, life is slowly returning to normal. But most of us still live with the repercussions of the pandemic.

How COVID Has Changed the Way We Run

While some of these changes will disappear as states ease restrictions and gyms reopen, others may stick around for a long time. Here’s a look at how the pandemic has changed the way we run:

  • Running has become a solo activity
  • Cross-training is more complex
  • Running with masks is commonplace
  • We stopped officially racing during COVID
  • Gyms closed, and everyone started running

Running became a solo activity.

Before the pandemic, many of us joined group runs or teamed up with friends to boost motivation. Then social distancing mandates complicated gatherings. Even those who felt comfortable running with other people still had to cope with six-foot distance requirements, limits on group size, and making space for others on narrow trails. While many runners enjoy solitude, these mandates were more challenging for those who thrive on support and encouragement. Fortunately, online fitness communities offer camaraderie and help boost motivation.

Cross-training became more complicated.

For avid runners, cross-training is a crucial part of staying in top shape. Weight-lifting, swimming, and yoga are some of the best forms of cross-training, but many require a gym membership or access to classes and expensive equipment. When gyms closed, runners needed to find new options. Fortunately, anyone can search online and find a plethora of yoga, barre, and pilates classes. Some runners turned to at-home training with smart equipment. Many lifestyle activities also engage the right muscles: walking the dog, playing with kids, gardening, and home improvement. Some have found they prefer these activities and may choose not to renew their gym memberships.

We started wearing masks.

Most states added mandates that required people to wear a mask outdoors whenever they couldn’t maintain 6 feet of distance from others. For runners on crowded city streets and trails, this meant wearing a mask much of the time, which brought new challenges:

  • A feeling of restricted breathing and reduced airflow.
  • Managing condensation.
  • Skin irritation and acne.
  • Feeling overheated and sweating more profusely.

It’s safe to say nobody enjoys wearing a mask, but some people feel safer knowing others are wearing them. As mandates remain in place, it’s courteous to keep a mask or buff on hand, even on mountain trails and other areas with fewer people. But as transmission rates drop and state restrictions end, most runners will likely be grateful to leave their masks at home.

Races were canceled.

For many runners, the loss of races had a devastating emotional impact. Throughout 2020, spring, summer, and fall events were slashed from the calendar. Many runners felt lost without a goal to focus their training and reward their hard work. The pandemic was even harder on race organizers, who faced financial hardships and drawn-out uncertainties. Both runners and organizers were able to fill some of the gaps with “go at your own pace” virtual races. Still, many people found it difficult to perform at their highest level without the camaraderie and support of an in-person event. Now, as restrictions ease, in-person races are slowly returning. Runners must still navigate their own comfort levels with groups and traveling. It may be years before racing returns to pre-pandemic levels. But there is hope on the horizon as fall races open for registration. And the boom of virtual racing provides another avenue for novice runners who may feel that traditional races are intimidating, unwelcoming, or uncomfortable.

Running became more popular.

Studies have shown that more people started working out during the pandemic as non-exercisers committed to healthier lifestyles. When office employees started working remotely, reduced commute times and more flexible schedules gave occasional runners more time to train. And as gyms closed, some fitness buffs took up running for the first time. Fewer social commitments gave avid runners more time and energy to focus on training. Running remains one of the most accessible physical activities because it doesn’t require special equipment or skills. All you need are a good pair of shoes. There are even free apps for virtual group runs and training plans to guide runners on their chosen path.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, but runners persevered. We had to find new ways to cross-train. Coped with running while wearing a mask. Trained alone and competed in virtual races. Fortunately, this difficult period also brought more people to the sport. The community as a whole will see ongoing benefits from this influx of new runners.

Whether you are an experienced runner who took your running to a new level, or someone who started running during the pandemic, the right running gear can help you maximize your performance. 

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