Let's get one thing straight: whether you lace up to meditate, socialize, train, or just blow off steam, running is always good for you—and often for more reasons than many people realize. But this year, through the stress of both a global pandemic and a historic reckoning for social justice, those benefits have never been more clear or important. Here are just a few of the ways running kept us clearheaded this year.
1. It Helped Our Frontline Workers Cope
In addition to battling the coronavirus every day, healthcare workers and first responders faced round-the-clock changes, with new protocols, new symptoms in patients, and new research as the pandemic unfolded. For Sam Roecker, a competitive runner and a nurse with an ear, nose, and throat specialty in Philadelphia, running provided stability when everything else felt volatile. “It’s been the only thing I can rely on to do every day in a world where everything is constantly changing,” Roecker says. A daily run gave her the time to decompress and focus on something besides treating patients.
2. It Gave Us a New Routine and Reason to Get Out
However motivated you normally are, let's face it: Lockdowns were—and still can be—a tempting excuse to sleep late and generally hunker down. But eventually, you have to get out. And because many of us were forced to work from home and therefore no longer commute, we had more space in our schedules to lose track of time on runs.
Gavin Smith, a Boston public school principal, took full advantage of his newfound flexibility, dedicating an hour at least five days a week to the meditative practice. Since an Achilles tendon tear in 2017 knocked down his semi-competitive status and thwarted his long-distance goals, he struggled for several years to log 1,000 miles in a year. But on a Friday this November, months into his new routine, he celebrated the milestone. “Running became fun again this year,” Smith says. “It became something of pride for me.”
3. It Kept Our Bodies and Minds Strong
With gyms closed, the sidewalks and parks became our training grounds. People new to running laced up their shoes, not only for their physical well-being but also to stimulate their minds. Like many other forms of exercise, running increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps our brains modulate our stress responses. And during this unprecedented time, stress was abundant. Professional runner Mary Cain returned to the sport after recovering from health issues and appreciated syncing her mind with her body again. “This has been the year of recognizing what it means to have running as a gift,” says Cain, a community manager for Tracksmith.
4. It Became an Act of Solidarity
The running community is a tight one. So when one of its own, Ahmaud Arbery, was killed while out on a run in Georgia, it came together to protest his death and celebrate his life. Both runners and non-runners, wherever they were around the country, ran either 2.23 miles or 2.23 hours to commemorate February 23, the day he died. Plus, the powerful Black Lives Matter movement amplified the voices of Black runners everywhere. Smith, of Boston, said it gave him the courage to open up about his experiences as a Black athlete as well as an affirmation that he belongs in the community. “It’s a place where I can be me and I can run,” Smith says.
5. It Helped Us Stay Connected with the World
With fewer regularly scheduled gatherings and necessarily smaller social groups, this year could have been lonely. But as we have in so many ways, we adapted—and running helped big-time. It reminded us to appreciate small yet positive interactions with strangers—a wave, a nod, or a smile as we jogged by.
Smith greeted a bank security guard every morning. Roecker was no longer the only one frequenting the river trail on cold and rainy March mornings as more people discovered the sport. And Cain witnessed New York City’s energetic reaction to the election results as she ran through Central Park. “It was the New York City Marathon moment we weren’t able to have this year,” Cain says.
Founded in Boston in 2014, Tracksmith is an independent running brand built on a deep love for the sport. We craft products, tell stories and create experiences that aim to celebrate, support and add to running’s distinct culture.