Is This the "Third Running Boom?"

 Hey, something’s going on out there. Is it the “third running boom?"

I think there’s something going on in the larger running world. By which I mean beyond the incredible world records set by elite runners in the Berlin and Chicago Marathons. I’m detecting a change in the vast middle of the pack.

I’m hesitant to call this the “third running boom.” But it could be. The first running boom was in the late 1970s on the heels of Jim Fixx’s Complete Book of Running. The second occurred in the 1990s. Since it was largely a women’s running boom, I often give credit to Oprah Winfrey’s completion of the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994. This time around we’re looking at a post-Covid phenomenon. 

We all know Covid was tough. It limited our fitness opportunities, as races were canceled, and you couldn’t go to the gym. (But you could run outdoors alone, which many did, including many who were not runners previously.) Even more, it limited social opportunities. Workplaces closed down, everyone was stuck at home, and Netflix exploded. 

None of these were healthy things. We know that fitness is directly connected to health and wellbeing, because we have 1000s of objective-measure studies to confirm that relationship. We also know that social connectivity to family, friends, and larger groups is health enhancing because we have many somewhat “squishier” studies showing the same.

So, for lack of a better term, I’m going to call his new running boom “social running.” It’s a reaction to the loosening of Covid’s grip. Now that we can mix it up again, we’re doing so in droves. Specifically, we want to be both fit and social, and running groups combine both very nicely, thank you.

A little evidence: A recent NY Times article on new social running clubs, and a spate of “Park Run” studies tracing the growth of that mostly-non-U.S. phenomenon. I follow Park Runs closely, as do social- and exercise-scientists. Why?

Because Park Runs are growing worldwide, while overall physical activity continues to decline. Here are articles about a 90-year old British runner who recently completed his 500th Park Run; another about how Park Runs help some participants manage their cardiac rehabilitation; and a third about the attraction of "green exercise."

There's no doubt about the green appeal, but people are powerful exercise motivators too. That's the point of that recent NYT piece on social running. Serious runners talk about their training partners--we can't do long runs without them.

But no one says you have to run marathons to gain massive health benefits from running. The exercise studies often show that 8- to 12-miles a week offers significant benefits. And a couple of social runs will go a long ways towards helping you hit that mark.

Some of these runners will follow their new fitness habit all the way to road race starting lines. It appears that races are approaching their 2019 entry size, and are poised to gain even more participants. At any rate, it's a great time to expand your social circle of running buddies.

(Adapted from, October 12, 2023.)