Insights July 1, 2020

For the love of running – with the help of fitness tracking apps and virtual races

Living Word
By Living Word

How have our running and exercise behaviours changed throughout the spring of 2020, when a large portion of the world was under lockdown? Garmin and ASICS have analysed the impact of the global pandemic on activity levels, and found that the world is falling in love with running once again.

During the pandemic, more people have been running – but in different ways, shows new research from Garmin, the leading specialist in outdoor sports GPS devices, with millions of users around the world. In countries with stricter lockdown measures, such as Italy and Spain, unsurprisingly Garmin has seen a decrease in outdoor running (by 68% in Spain and 42% in Italy), as people were forced to rely on treadmills and other indoor activities. Where less restrictive measures were taken, like in Sweden and Germany, people kept up the outdoor running but opted for shorter runs than usual in order to limit exposure and stay closer to home.

Footwear and sports equipment brand ASICS is also trying to better understand and support the changing needs of runners. During April 2020, the ASICS fitness app Runkeeper saw a 252% rise in registrations globally. In the UK alone, there’s been a whopping 667% increase in the number of people downloading the app, and a 105% rise in active monthly users.

Clearly, running is helping people deal with challenging situations like the one we are currently experiencing. In fact, according to ASICS, 79% of runners say that running is helping them feel saner and more in control, while 65% maintain that the mental benefits of running outweigh those of other forms of physical exercise. In more good news, three quarters of runners plan to stick with their new exercise routine in the future. In the company’s press release, Kelly McGonigal, PhD, health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, says: “It makes perfect sense that people around the world have turned to running during this crisis. When you run, you literally sense yourself moving forward in life.”

But what about this year’s races?

Many runners plan the year ahead according to the race calendar. Races such as the London Marathon and the New York Marathon are incredibly popular and provide motivation for professionals and amateurs alike with a buzzing atmosphere, crowds lining the streets to cheer the runners on, and of course the important finisher medal. To some, it’s the event of a lifetime, so it’s understandable that the race cancellations this year have contributed to a slump in motivation for many.

The Great North Run is the biggest half marathon in the world. In celebration of its 40th anniversary this year, the race had a record 60,000 places for runners. A hit not just among runners, the Great North Run gives a £31 million boost to the regional economy each year, raising over £25 million for charity. This year’s race is now scheduled to take place in September 2021 instead – but the organisers have also launched the Great North Run Reimagined, a virtual running campaign that includes the Great North Run Solo in aid of the NHS, as well as the Virtual Great North Run in aid of the race’s official charities.

In fact, there are more opportunities to continue racing. To help motivate runners and allow them to compete collectively but safely, ASICS is hosting a number of virtual races powered by Race Roster. Using the Runkeeper app, runners can track their virtual runs and have the results show up on Race Roster.

More running motivation is offered by, for instance, The Running Channel, which has heaps of inspiring videos on YouTube, including ‘What To Do If Your Marathon Gets Cancelled’, ‘The BEST Running APPS in 2020’ and ‘How To Make Running FUN’. Ben Parkes, British coach in running fitness, has plenty of tips too on his YouTube channel and blog. In ‘Ways to make your runs fun!’, Ben provides tips on how to enjoy training without the motivating pressure associated with preparing for a race.