Running has been one of the sports that have benefited the most from the Covid-19 pandemic, along with golf, cycling, home fitness, surfing, hiking and a variety of other outdoor sports. According to a global survey of 3,961 current runners, 28.76 of them started to run during the pandemic,

Questioned by us, Nicholas Rizzo, who conducted the survey for RunRepeat, which claims to be the world’s largest online athletic shoe review company, gave us even higher shares for new runners in some European countries. The share of new runners stood at 36.96 percent in Denmark, 34.78 percent in Poland and 34.09 percent in Ireland. Lower-than-average scores were recorded in the U.K. (28.1%), Greece, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, Spain, France and Germany.

The study determined that the desire to keep physically fit ranked highest among the new runners, as it was mentioned by 72.78 percent among their motivation for engaging in the sport. Social interaction is a motivation for only 11.59 percent of the new runners, and in fact, many of them have been seen running solo during the recent lockdowns. Only 22.83 percent of them mentioned competition or achievement as one of their motivations. Higher scores were registered in the areas of mental or emotional health (54.52%) and confidence and self-esteem (31.52%).

Comparatively, physical health was cited one of the motivations for running among 61.66 percent of the “pre-pandemic runners, but the benefit of mental or emotional health ranked higher, as it was mentioned by 64.00 percent of them. Pre-pandemic runners are motivated more than the new runners by a spirit of competition or achievement (34.73%), confidence and self-esteem (32.49%) and social interaction (16.90%).

The survey also found that only 50.04 percent of the new-pandemic runners are planning to participate in a race over the next 12 months, compared with a ratio of 63.08 percent for pre-pandemic runners.

On the other hand, virtual races have become more popular. Out of the new runners who are interested in participating in a race, 68.42 percent would race in-person, while the others would prefer a virtual race. They are 115.37 percent more likely to engage in a virtual race than their pre-pandemic counterparts, 85.34 percent of whom plan to race in-person.

Running is here to stay, with more women and younger people

The high shares of new runners found by Rizzo have been confirmed by other national studies, and they have yield some other interesting insights. In France, for example, the number of regular new runners grew by 12.5 percent to about 13 million in 2020, according to an annual study by the Observatoire du Running, and 60 percent of the newcomers to the sport were women.

Also, thirty-nine percent of the new runners in France are 35 years old or younger. Out of all the runners, 84 percent have been practicing yoga and others sports that were permitted based on the anti-Covid regulations. The new runners have been running smaller distances more frequently.

Interestingly, 99 percent of them indicated that they want to continue to practice the sport after the end of the current health crisis. On the other hand, the increase in the number of runners hasn’t automatically translated into an increase in the number of running shoes sold, based on NPD data, probably because of the cancellation of many in-person races.

The number of new runners rose at a lower rate in Spain. A study recently conducted by the government among 14,238 runners all over Spain points to an increase of 5.13 percent in the course of 2020, up from an average annual growth of 3.10 percent between 2015 and 2019.

There have been stronger increases among women and children also in Spain. This year, 32 percent of the runners included in the study were women, compared with 9 percent in 2002 and 20 percent in 2011. The study also found that 53.41 of the runners’ children aged less than 16 are running occasionally in the course of the year, up from 35.32 percent five years ago.

Photo: Martins Zemlickis, Unsplash