There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Runner

It's Saturday and I'm joining up with my friends to download on the week that's just zoomed by. I show up a few minutes early, and as I glance around for them, I notice that our meeting place is already packed. I shouldn't be surprised, I live in New York City, after all. Considering it's 9 a.m., however, and the spot in question is the Central Park running loop, where we plan to scratch miles off the week's to-do list, I somehow am anyways.

Unlike the gym, which is dominated by bulked-up bros, the path around the park seems to be filled predominantly with women (yeah, a few dudes can be spotted here or there, doing their best shirtless Bachelor audition impressions). But I imagine that in these tense times we're living in, these women are here for the same reason that I am: to decompress mentally and connect emotionally with their friends.

And while they're connecting, these women are pushing themselves to smash PRs and log never-before-seen mileage. Quicker paces and packed race courses are the epitome of women supporting women, and I for one, can't get enough of it.

"The beauty of running is that it's a sport that can be selectively engaged in to meet others and create lasting bonds, to independently release stress, and to achieve personal goals," explains New York City sports psychologist Leah Lagos Wallach, PsyD, who's board-certified in biofeedback. "Alternatively, many women choose to run solo as a way to release the stress of the day because it serves as their 'cave,' in which they can let go of external stressors and distractions and tune into their inner self."

"Many women choose to run solo as a way to release the stress of the day because it serves as their 'cave,' in which they can let go of external stressors and distractions and tune into their inner self." —Leah Lagos Wallach, sports psychologist

According to the 2017 National Runner Survey done by the Running USA organization, this Saturday snapshot in my city is a microcosm for what's happening with the sport at large. Data from the survey suggests that the sport is 63 percent female and about 74 percent of runners fall between the ages of 25 to 54, with the majority of them classifying themselves as mid-way between occasional jogger and serious athlete. Check. check. check.

"Running has really become a lifestyle," says Michael Capiraso, New York Road Runners' President and CEO. "People are seeking health and fitness opportunities, so they may go to a class or go to a weekend retreat. They may join up with a bunch of friends who engage in some activity around health and fitness and running is usually part of it."

There must be something to these community-building and endorphin-boosting benefits: People across the country are signing up for 5Ks, 10K, half marathons, and marathons like never before. Not only have the overall number of races climbed—from 21,150 in 2015 to 37,472 in 2017—so, too, have the number of participants: from 3,560,588 to 5,060,076, according to Run Sign Up. (The most popular race, if you're wondering, is the 10K.)

"I think the emergence of the women marathoners in this country has absolutely played a role in [increasing interest in the sport]," Capiraso says, who adds that, keeping in stride with the trend, more runners than ever before will be taking on the New York City Marathon this year. "Look at Shalane Flanagan winning the New York City marathon or Desi Linden at the Boston Marathon or Molly Huddle being the incredible runner that she is. So many of these American women I think have really helped to add to our inspiration."

Though not everyone can win the marathon, the wins that come along the way—the community, the anxiety relief, the endorphins produced—serve as evidence of progress in motion. We runners gain so much ground with every single step along the journey—working through the walls, going with the pain, rejoicing when hard work pays off, playing a game of scheduling Tetris to make the damn thing happen in the first place—that the job of runner starts to sound an awful lot like the job of being a human.

So as the season of running and our own United States of Running program finds its legs, I'm happy to sign off with the chorus, set to the tune of clicking laces on the pavement: There's never been a better time to runner. Get to it.

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