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With Gyms Closed in Canada, a Rise in Running to Have Positive Impact on Retailers

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a new running boom in Canada as more people are taking their fitness activities outdoors. Retailers catering to the activity will see increased sales as a result.

A new survey of 3,961 runners by RunRepeat, a website that reviews running shoes, found that 28.76 per cent of current runners are new pandemic runners that began over the past year. 

The boom in running is not surprising given the circumstances of fitness studios and gyms who have had to deal with closures throughout the past year due to public health measures.

Nick Rizzo

Nick Rizzo, Research Director of RunRepeat, said the pandemic was the perfect opportunity for people to pick up that habit. 

“Before the pandemic you always had an excess of options to choose to be fit, to be healthy, to get in shape. It depended on what your goal was fitness wise. Study after study has shown that just having more options to choose from it doesn’t improve your situation, it typically just makes you more anxious, more reluctant to make a decision to take action when you have more options,” said Rizzo.

“I think the pandemic narrowed all that down. When you don’t have other options to typically go to, on top of being forced to kind of stay home for a period of time, you don’t have other things to do, it’s a perfect environment to develop a new habit. There’s less distractions. There’s less that they can take away from you so you’re more likely to be successful in developing a habit which I feel is why a significant portion of those who started running during the pandemic are still running now.

“The situation was perfect for fostering the habit and will likely lead to people sticking around with running for a long time which I see is a massive opportunity for the running industry.”

John Stanton, Founder and CEO of the Running Room, which has 100 stores across Canada, said there is a running boom taking place now as a result of the pandemic.

Image: Screen grab from RunningRoom.com

“There’s a number of factors. The isolation and the fact that every health minister is recommending outdoor exercise and to do it by yourself. So walking and running fits really well for that,” said Stanton. “What we’re seeing is a lot of runners who are my age where they might not have been running as much but with the pandemic they can’t go to the swimming pool, they can’t go to the gym, they can’t go workout, and because a lot of those fitness classes are being cancelled a lot of those runners are returning.”

Stanton said many people involved in team sports also want to maintain their fitness while their sports are on a break so they too have taken up running. 

“We’re seeing a real upsurge of it and it will continue too. There’s definitely an interest in it. You’re seeing it in the neighbourhoods of Calgary and Edmonton and across Canada. You see people out. Not only do you see that runner by themselves but you see families, and they’re running and walking together. We’re seeing an uptick on selling shoes because the runner who used to run and maybe because of aging or injuries and can’t run any longer knows the benefits of getting outside and getting moving and exercising. And they’re walking in the community,” said Stanton.

“You’ve got the newbie runner that’s there and they’re there in big numbers. You’ve got the return runner who is there and decided to come back to running because they maybe gave up and took up another sport for awhile. And then you’ve got the runner who can’t run anymore but they’re walking. And you’ve got the brand new person who has seen everyone in the neighbourhood and they’re going stir crazy in the house and they’ve got to go outside and do something. So they might as well try walking or running.”

Running Room at CrossIron Mills
Running Room at CrossIron Mills. Photo: Jessica Finch

Key findings from the RunRepeat survey include:

  • These new-pandemic runners are 19.82 per cent less likely to participate in in-person races over the next 12 months; 
  • New runners are 115.37 per cent more in favour of virtual races than pre-pandemic runners;
  • Motives for running are changing – physical health is the primary motivation for 72 per cent of new-pandemic runners, up 18.03 per cent from runners who began running before the pandemic;
  • Only 50.04 per cent of new-pandemic runners plan to participate in a race over the next 12 months in comparison to the 63.08 per cent of pre-pandemic runners;
  • Currently, these new-pandemic runners are 20.67 per cent less likely to participate in any form of race, in-person or virtual;
  • Of these new runners that are looking to participate in a race, 68.42 per cent plan to race in-person in comparison to the 85.34 per cent of pre-pandemic runners;
  • New runners are running for their health, all while being less likely to choose any of the other options as a primary source of motivation. Specifically, these new runners are: 34.27 per cent less likely to run for competition or achievement; 31.44 per cent less likely to run for social interaction; 14.81 per cent less likely to run for mental or emotional health; three per cent less likely to run for their confidence or self-esteem.

“Our Fitness Trends 2021 report showed that outdoor activities like running were the #1 trend in 2020 and 2021, increasing significantly over the year,” said RunRepeat. “This study shows that there has been a significant boom in running during the pandemic. The situation and circumstances that these people have taken up running are drastically different than their pre-pandemic counterparts. 

“With more than a quarter of runners having begun during the pandemic, the “average runner” has changed. From their motivations to their race participation and preferences. Focusing much more on the physical health benefits of cardio and being much more highly in favour of virtual races.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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