I Almost Quit Running Because of the Pandemic. This Is Why

Photo Courtesy: Patricia Puentes/Ask

I don’t know if I’d describe myself as a runner. I feel the noun has too many athletic connotations. Plus, I’m a late bloomer. I started running in my early thirties but didn’t get serious until later. I did my first half marathon at 36 and found it incredibly self-fulfilling but also excruciatingly agonizing at times. While training for a half marathon is a very significant time commitment, running the actual 13.1 miles is just as hard. And yet I’ve kept running one half marathon per year ever since that first race, treating it as a yearly checkup and get-back-in-shape event.

Running tends to have a soothing effect on me. On a regular week, I’d take at least a couple or three runs of 3-4 miles each. On a training week, at least one of the runs would need to be longer as I incrementally increased my distance to be able to sustain the 13.1 on race day.

That was until COVID-19 hit and upended my whole running regimen, of course.

The workout-tracking app Strava released its customary "Year in Sport" report at the end of 2020, compiling data from 73 million athletes around the world. It showed some of the challenges of "safely being active during a global pandemic" but also an overall increase in physical activity — alone. Strava grew by about 2 million new athletes each month last year. "3x as many marathons were run alone in 2020 compared to 2019. In the peak month (April 2020), 76% of marathons were run solo, a 10x increase over April 2019," the report says, pointing out this data to reveal an increase in solitary exercise along with the cancelations of organized marathon races.

How did people do it? There were full weeks in April, May, September and October of last year when I didn’t run a single mile. I didn’t do any physical activity other than walking, really — let alone find the stamina to train or run for a long-distance race. According to my Strava statistics, I ran a total of 451.2 miles in 2018. In 2019 it was 319.8 miles, but I had started a new exercise routine that incorporated more Pilates and yoga, dedicating less time to running as a whole. In 2020 I ran a paltry 262.2 miles. That was not by design.