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Data Reveals How New Runners Embraced Movement During the Pandemic

Plus, three reasons to keep at your new running habit.

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Remember the beginning of the pandemic, during all the lockdowns and amidst all the “flatten the curve” sentiment, when people were just running? And they were running all the time, it seemed. We’d see videos or hear stories about people running laps in their living room, completing backyard marathons, and breaking records on their treadmill.

We also kept hearing about a “boom” of new runners. And it made sense, with the temporary closure of gyms and general need to blow off steam from the intense pressure cooker we’d all been put into, that people would flock to an activity that doesn’t require any equipment or expertise to meet their needs.

A new RunRepeat survey gives an idea of just what those new runners looked like and how they shape the running community as it stands today.

The biggest takeaway from the survey: Almost 30 percent of runners started during the pandemic.

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Photo: Courtesy RunRepeat

The survey, which polled 3,961 current runners, found that new runners seem to be in favor of pandemic-era running conditions. In general, they are about 20 percent less likely to participate in an in-person race in the next year and 115 percent more in favor of virtual races than pre-pandemic runners.

While the survey does not divulge the answer, it’s important to consider why new runners prefer virtual over in person racing. After all, it could play a major role in the future of events. It could be that they just haven’t been exposed to other scenarios yet, they might feel comfortable in the routines and self-motivating goals they’ve developed. Or maybe they don’t feel comfortable or welcome in joining the wider running community for any number of reasons.

Aligning with the disinterest in in-person events, new runners were 34 percent less likely to run for competition than veteran runners. Their biggest motivating factor was for physical health, with 74 percent responding as such. And that’s unsurprising with the sedentary lifestyle that was forced upon all of us.

New runners were also less likely to run for social interaction (31%) or self-esteem (3%). But after such an emotionally draining year, it’s surprising that new runners were 14 percent less likely to run for mental or emotional health than pre-pandemic runners.

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Photo: Courtesy RunRepeat

It will be interesting to see how these trends change as we move away from the pandemic. After being exposed to the more social and competitive aspects of running, will new runners still prefer virtual experiences? Will they go back to whatever physical activity they preferred before? Will their motivations change, or is this the new normal of running?

RELATED: 5 Tips for Sticking to Running Once the Pandemic Is Over

No matter the answers, we’re glad to have more runners among us. We hope you stick with it! Here are three (out of many) benefits you’ll enjoy if you do.

Better All-Over Health

The health benefits of an intense cardiovascular routine like running have been widely reported. Studies have shown that running can add years to your life, improve your immune function, reduce your risk of many cancers, lower the risk of diabetes and pre-diabetes, and lower blood pressure. A recent study also found that regular moderate to intense exercise could also reduce your risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. Should we go on? Because we probably could.

RELATED: 10 Really Great (And Research-Backed) Benefits of Running

That Includes Mental Health

If you haven’t experienced it yet, we’re sure you’ve at least heard of the runner’s high. Studies have found that running can reduce stress, lower anxiety levels, and lower levels of depression. One study out of the University of Maryland found that those benefits weren’t just temporary, but that moderate aerobic exercise also helped people cope for an extended period of time post-workout.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Boost the Calming Power of Running

Improved Self-Esteem

Sure, starting out anything new comes with a bit of fear and self-doubt, but overcoming that can be life-changing. It’s no secret that accomplishing a goal can boost your self-esteem. The great thing about running is you can set goals in nearly any increment and feel the rush of working toward and eventually achieving them. It could be to run your first mile, first 5K, first marathon, or ultramarathon. Or the goal could be to stay consistent and feel your self-esteem rise after you log mile after mile.

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From Women’s Running