On the one hand, Strava's 2020 Year In Sport Data Report shows that despite the pandemic its users have been part of an exercise boom:
--3x as many 26.2 mile runs were uploaded to Strava in 2020 compared to 2019. In the peak month (April 2020), 76% of marathons were run solo, a 10x increase over April 2019.
--Among runners active on Strava since at least 2019, 55% logged a new personal best time in their 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon distances in 2020.
--Athletes who were active on Strava in both 2019 and 2020 increased their activity frequency by over 13%.
--Between April and September 2020, women aged 18-29 uploaded 45.2% more activities than during the same period last year, compared to a 27.3% increase by their male counterparts.
--Globally, runners logged 1.9 billion miles and 94.5 billion feet of climbing. Runners in the United States ran 387 million miles.
There was a significant rise in walking:
--Running, cycling and indoor workouts saw a 1.5-2x rise in uploads, uploads of outdoor walks increased by 3x.
--Walking was the top *new* activity for cyclists between April and June.
On the other hand:
Virtual competition and community replaced live group events.
Which has strained race and event promoters' businesses, which are based on the chemistry that happens when you run with others. Event organizers intuitively understand the importance of the (live) social component of fitness:
We tend to become like the people in our (live) social networks.
Therefore, if you hang out with fit people you will become fitter.
Unfortunately, pandemic conditions have thrown multiple monkey wrenches into event operations. Everyone I know is jonesing for group fitness activities.
An Aspire runner enjoys a socially-distanced jaunt in the Cascades. Credit: Nick M Danielson
Northwest Trail Runs' Eric Bone confided:
"I've found this year to be somewhat of an anxiety roller-coaster, since our operations have been chaotic with all the uncertainty around what will be allowed and when. I'm not great at managing too many different tasks, and with the extra work of managing pandemic uncertainty, new safety protocols, and applying for and administering the limited forms of aid that have been available, my abilities have been stretched this year. But life is an adventure, and navigating this time has been interesting, to say the least!"
Eric's attitude is proof that endurance sports can help instill a zen-like approach to the ups and downs of life.
Live events are restarting, but with limitations.
Here is a peek into 2021 from some of the region's most popular trail running event organizers:
Aspire runners masked up on Sucia Island. Credit: Nick M Danielson
In contrast to event organizers that put on races, Aspire organizes single and multi-day running adventures in wilderness terrain across Cascadia and Northern California. They offer unique backcountry running experiences that combine logistical and emergency support with delicious meals and community.
Aspire plans to operate with their established COVID Policies and Procedures throughout the year:
They are so confident about the safety of their operations that they have added several new trips in 2021:
Three Devils Rendezvous is based out of the Colonial Creek Campground on Diablo Lake and offers lakeside camping with runs up three breathtaking peaks.
Nooksack Ridgelines is based in the emerald-hued Nooksack river valley on the north side of Mt. Baker, and participants adventure into the Baker high country.
Goat Rocks is a comprehensive two-day tour of the Goat Rocks Wilderness totaling ~50 miles full of volcano views and knife edge ridgelines.
In addition to new trips, Aspire is launching backcountry skills courses.
Aspire's Course Director Abram Dickerson says the new courses will empower their clients:
“As runners are traveling deeper and more frequently into wild spaces there is a growing need for us to understand the fundamentals of backcountry medicine and how to treat injuries common to our sport. We’re teaming up with Backcountry Medical Guides to provide a three-day, retreat style, Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification course on Sucia Island. This is our first Skills trip focused on empowering runners to run deeper, with more offerings in the works.”
Thumbs up and cleared for meal prep at an Aspire event. Credit: Nick M Danielson
Wholesome food prep at an Aspire event. Credit: Nick M Danielson
"We are feeling fairly optimistic about the 2021 season. The combination of a new administration, vaccine distribution, and the general weather trend as 2021 progresses I think will lead to a steady recovery for our events as the year progresses. Our first event of the year, Lord Hill, is already ahead of where it was last year, which is a good indicator. We've already had two in-person events, one in November and one in December, with small wave starts and both went very smoothly. The small wave starts, while they lacked the excitement of a mass start, made for a more relaxed and low-pressure environment for the runners and staff, which I think people enjoyed."
Their coronavirus precautions include:
-No in-person pre-race bib pickup; no in-person registration.
-Participants start in very small pre-assigned waves.
-Participants are strongly encouraged to be self-sufficient and bring their own food and water.
-Handwashing stations with hand sanitizer are in place at the start/finish areas.
-Volunteers wear gloves and masks.
Northwest Trail Runs' Eric Bone is cautiously optimistic about their 2021 season:
"We are planning a fairly ambitious 2021 calendar, with nearly as many events as we typically have, including some exciting new events. Thanks to the safety guidance that the Governor's office published in the fall, we anticipate that most planned events will be able to go forward in a modified, more COVID-safe form, often with somewhat reduced capacity and an extended time schedule to facilitate physical distancing. We will be prepared to adapt or cancel events, if needed, based upon official guidance at the time, but of course we are crossing our fingers that current measures will be effective in bringing case numbers down and saving lives."
We have some new events east of the Cascades that take place in lovely terrain with a very different feel than Puget Sound temperate forests, and these include some breathtaking views. Some of our new events are endurance navigation races in rugged and beautiful locations, and with all the mountain athletes in the Pacific Northwest that are pushing the envelope on epic runs in the mountains, we're looking forward to welcoming some of those folks to some new challenges that will extend those backcountry skillsets and be memorable.
"Our company has struggled due to the loss of business in 2020, and we are anxious about the possibility that many of our 2021 events could lose money due to decreased numbers of people registering and some increased costs of safety measures. Our customers have been incredibly supportive and patient with all the schedule changes this year, and that has greatly helped us to remain solvent. We will do our best to continue to bring great events to the outdoor athletes we serve and keep our fingers crossed that conditions improve and more customers return as the vaccines are rolled out."
By its very nature, trail running is a very COVID-safe activity:
"It is outdoors, it involves movement rather than staying in one place around others, and--except for the start--it is mostly inherently physically distanced, since runners generally spread out on the trail. The things that happen at normal events (during non-pandemic times) that adversely impact safety are people hanging out with others in close proximity before and after the race, and people gathering together in a big crowd for the pre-start briefing and mass-start. Per the guidance from the state that we are following, our events eliminate all these riskier elements by spreading out arrival and start times over a significant period of time, starting runners individually or in very small waves, laying out the event area to make it easy to maintain at least six feet distance from others, and having check-in procedures that don't require staff and participants to be in close proximity."
"Other COVID-19 safety measures at our events include screening, mask wearing, sanitary and hygiene measures, safety compliance monitoring, flexible refund policies, and clear communication about safety measures, including expectations for participants to do their part. We also remind our participants to plan ahead, so that they can eliminate unnecessary local stops and thus further reduce risk and keep local communities on the way to and from the event site safe. We've been very encouraged by how well runners at our events have complied with safety measures; we really feel like we're a team with our runners to create a safe event. And we've heard from other park users at the venues where we've had events that they appreciate the safe manner in which our runs are being organized."
Check out the Northwest in Motion events calendar to find running events in 2021.