Why we run during the coronavirus pandemic

The risk of running


Brin Andrews

3 years ago | 4 min read

Gyms are closed, marathons are cancelled, and while there’s never been a better time to dust off that leotard, YouTube only has so many jazzercise videos.

So how do you balance your newfound passion for Instagram-worthy bread baking, and continue to support local restaurants by ordering takeout, while still maintaining some shred of hope for fitting into your pre-quarantine pants (or, ‘trousers,’ for the Brits)?

The simplest answer: run. While stay-at-home measures should be taken seriously, this doesn’t need to be at the expense of our wardrobe, no less our mental and physical health.

With the Netherlands taking a relatively relaxed approach to its coronavirus lockdown, we’re fortunate to be able to go outside, and running/jogging does the body and mind a world of good.

But back in March, an Italian mayor went viral shouting at citizens, “How come everyone has turned into a running enthusiast?” He asks rhetorically, why do we suddenly love it so much?

Ahem, respectfully, sir, here’s why: it’s far and away the single-most dynamically beneficial activity we have left. It:

  • provides fresh air and vitamin D,
  • releases endorphins,
  • boosts the immune system,
  • improves cardiovascular and respiratory health,
  • builds strength and endurance,
  • and burns off a few of those delicious carbs.

It’s a reprieve from cabin fever, a moment of solitude to reset and reflect. It’s a chance to smell the spring flowers and blossoming trees, to see freshly sunkissed, smiling faces, to hear laughter reverberating off brick and water, and to remember that life goes on and eventually, one day, we will return to some version of normalcy.

The risk of running

But the mayor makes an important point: running, or any activity outside the house, puts you and others at risk of exposure. While running, we’re breathing more heavily and potentially releasing more respiratory droplets into the air.

It can be challenging and anxiety-inducing to figure out how to safely manoeuvre around the masses of people who are now spread wide along the city’s streets and parks, and when doing so we have to be cautious and responsible.

Mostly, what that means is going alone and maintaining an appropriate distance from others.

Yes, it may seem like a daunting or even impossible feat, especially if you, like me, live in a compact city, but with the right timing (go early or when it’s raining!) and extra attention to your surroundings, this might actually be a great time to pick up a running habit.

Anyone can run

Remember, you don’t have to consider yourself a “runner,” to go for a run. I’m a terrible swimmer, but theoretically, as a living, breathing human, I should at least be able to float.

I keep this in mind whenever I have the opportunity to swim and even though I’m the worst at it, it doesn’t mean I can’t have a good time bobbing around in the water, working on my doggie paddle. Do you see where I’m going here?

Your version of running might be more of a trot or shuffle, just like my version of swimming is more of a gasp and thrash. Not everyone takes to running naturally, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some joy in it, or at the very least, after it.

You can jog-walk, prance, or skip, whatever your mode, just get outside and move your body in a forward motion, being mindful of the people around you. Ease into it and repeat often, and before you know it, you’re a runner.

Will you stay on track?

Once you’ve established that, you’ll find your own reasons to keep with it. W

hile some of us are seasoned runners, for others this may be an uncharted territory or even a last resort after realizing that back-ordered online dumbbell purchase may never actually arrive. The “how” you came to running is less important than the “why” you run, and the “why” is unique to each of us.

Before coronavirus turned the world upside down, I was training for the Prague Marathon in May, following a training plan for the first time and pushing myself to new extremes.

I was disappointed when the race was cancelled but that didn’t mean I was going to give up running altogether.

For me, a race might be the motivation to push myself harder, but it’s not what inspires me to run. I don’t do it for the participation medals or t-shirts, or even the glory of the finish line — and let’s be honest, I have no intention of returning to my “hard pants” (as my mother now refers to them) ever again.

I do it because so many years ago I decided to give it try and then kept trying, time again until at some point it just stuck.

Running can be addictive

Now, I run because my body begs me to and because my mind demands it. I run to notice what’s around me, to notice what’s happening inside me.

I run because I’m curious and because there’s so much to explore on my own two feet. It’s how I get lost so I can eventually find myself again. It’s how I orientate myself in a new city, and like everywhere I’ve lived in the past, it’s how I came to feel at home in Amsterdam.

I run because it grounds me and because through every challenge life has thrown at me I’ve put one foot in front of the other and run my way through it.

Now is no different. We’re experiencing a global pandemic, collective grief, anxiety, stress, and uncertainty, unlike anything we’ve ever been through. It’s happening all around us whether we feel it sinking in or not. Life is weird right now and largely out of our control.

So next time you’re gazing out your window, counting the dutiful runners passing by and wondering why on earth they would do that to themselves, especially now, maybe just give it a try. And then try it again and again, until you find your own “why.” Now, more than ever, we have to take care of ourselves.

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Brin Andrews







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