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How will new pandemic runners affect in-person and virtual races?

A recent survey conducted by RunRepeat asked 3,961 current runners how many of them began running during the pandemic. The survey aimed to learn more about running motivations, participating in races and how the runners differ from those who began before the pandemic.

Here are the key findings:

  • 28.76% of current runners started running during the pandemic.
  • These new runners are 19.82% less likely to participate in in-person races over the next 12 months.
  • New runners are 115.37% more in favor of virtual races than pre-pandemic runners.
  • Motives for running are changing. Physical health is the primary motivation for 72% of new runners, up 18.03% from runners who began running before the pandemic.

Nick Rizzo, the fitness research director at RunRepeat, said the current situation poses a major opportunity for any facility that has already been tackling member engagement by offering programs like outdoor classes and bootcamps.

“These types of events or offerings are prime opportunities for facilities to build a community and leverage it to engage with new potential members,” said Rizzo. “In the same way you can offer running events, you can simply start by gauging what interests your current members. Although running may seem like an obvious answer, options like weekend hiking or walking groups might come out as a major winner as well.”

Results from the survey stated 50.04% of new pandemic runners plan to participate in a race over the next 12 months, in comparison to the 63.08% of pre-pandemic runners. Currently, these new runners are 20.67% less likely to participate in any form of race, in-person or virtual. And of these new runners that are looking to participate in a race, 68.42% plan to race in-person in comparison to the 85.34% of pre-pandemic runners.

When it comes to virtual races, 31.58% of new-pandemic runners are looking to race virtually instead, making them 115.37% more likely to run a virtual race than their pre-pandemic counterparts.

Sandy Wiedmeyer, the fitness manager of the RecPlex in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, said her team has been conducting virtual runs and programming, and is looking forward to adding in-person runs back later this year as a result of requests from members.

When it comes to organizing virtual runs, Wiedmeyer suggested the following:

  • Tie the event to a charity. Being able to give back adds a sense of purpose to the event beyond just the act of running.
  • Offer a variety of distances for different levels of runners. There needs to be something for everyone. Some may want to run an ultra-marathon, while others are challenged by running a 5K distance.
  • Spread the run out over a period of time versus offering a one-day run on a specific date. Allowing runners to accumulate distance outside of a single day opens up availability and keeps participants engaged for a longer duration.
  • Encourage some form of social engagement. This can be done through a social media platform or an app like Strava.
  • Tie training plans to the event. These can be included or as an add-on that leads up to the event and can add even more engagement to the run itself.


Read the full report from RunRepeat.


Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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