Running From Coronavirus: A Back-to-Basics Exercise Boom

All road races have been canceled. There was no Tokyo Marathon, no New York Half Marathon. There will be no marathons this April in Boston, London or Northern California.

The racing world, like the rest of the world, is on hold. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at public parks, streets and trails across the United States.

A running boom is taking off.

With little else to do — no spinning classes, lap swim hours, boot camps or barre — a lot of people are turning to (or getting back to) running.

It’s the perfect sport for a pandemic. All you need is a pair of shoes and a six-foot buffer from the next person. (Some New York City paths, however, have gotten crowded with runners and walkers, making social distancing even there a challenge.)

Cabin fever is driving out the masses. Kids on scooters are chasing their huffing and puffing parents, some of whom have coaxed their own children to run, with mixed enthusiasm. Teenagers on bicycles are barking at their parents to catch up, like an elite coach prepping an Olympic hopeful.

There are runners in jeans and runners in expensive “athleisure” kits that look like they have never seen sweat. There are people wearing classic Converse and Nike Vaporflys and every shoe in between. There are families pulling each other with games of “first one to the light post wins” and friends running with an awkward amount of space between each other.

The newest runners are easy to spot, falling into one of three camps: overexcited, overstriding or overly dramatic about the hill up ahead. But a transformation comes quickly. A few blocks later and it’s easy to see the release on the faces of runners who have found their new outlet.

For many regular runners (I’m looking at you, Lauren, Will, Mary and the older gentleman who usually recites prayers while running and yells, “God bless you, girl!” every time I see him), it feels like the rest of the world has had some epiphany.

As a regular runner, you become addicted to the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other because when you’re running hard, that’s all you can think about. The lactic acid building in your legs doesn’t care about your work calendar or your school assignment or etiquette for video conference calls or the state of the pandemic today. Just get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Get to the next mile, to the next repetition, to the next tree, to the next breath.

We die-hards are occasionally seen as masochistic. Yes, you used to roll your eyes when we woke up before the sun rose or ran home from work or spent hours on the weekend logging double-digit miles only to fall asleep on the couch in the afternoon.

But you get it now, right? There’s a reason many refer to the longest run of the week with religious terminology. It’s not a Sunday long run, it’s “the church of the long run.” (For me, it’s a synagogue of the long run on Saturday.)

There’s an unspoken language among runners — one that’s perfectly communicated outside the buffer zone recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The subtle acknowledgment transcends language and borders and athletic ability.

Run in any country, in any park, at any time, spot another runner, and chances are you’ll greet each other with the slightest nod. You’re out here too.

Sometimes that nod gives way to a wave. When the weather is treacherous, sometimes you’ll get a thumbs up. You’re still out here too.

In this time, as more and more people hit their parks, streets and trails, make sure to nod at your fellow runner.

We’re all still out here.

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