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How Runners Are Staying Connected While Social Distancing

Whether you miss the camaraderie, accountability, or racing, here are six ways to stick together with your running buddies right now.

Photo: Getty Images

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For many of us, running is more than just logging miles and training for races. It’s about the community of people we spend time with on a regular basis, bonds that go beyond just race results and long runs. But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that. Many states and communities are under shelter-in-place restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus, forcing groups runs, speed workouts, and races to be canceled. While we can (thankfully) still lace up and head out the door to run, social distancing rules still apply—run solo and maintain at least six feet away from others (except for those in your household).

We get it—it’s hard. “It’s disappointing for all of us who have goals,” says Mona Reinhardt, 57, who runs regularly with the Ashburn Area Running Club in Virginia and whose eight upcoming races have been canceled. “On the other hand, it’s minuscule in the greater scheme of things and it tests your ability to adapt. I feel lucky right now that running is my form of exercise.”

So it’s not surprising that runners have found a way to stay connected with their running buddies and community. If you miss gabbing with your running buddies, the camaraderie of an early morning track workout, or the shared miles on a long run, here are some ways to keep your running connections alive.

6 New Ways to Run “Together” While Social Distancing

If you miss running with a purpose…

When Reinhardt’s races were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was left feeling adrift. So when her running club created a BINGO card to keep their runners engaged, she was in. To get BINGO, runners complete tasks like run your favorite route backward, switch up the time of day you run, or run a timed mile. They post their BINGO card on the group’s Facebook page. “It’s nice to have something to work towards and it’s given me idea for how to change things up,” she says. It’s a way to keep the connection, knowing that there are other people out there.

Other running groups have created scavenger hunts. Some of runners from the Durham and Carrboro, North Carolina, Fleet Feet stores are calculating their DPM on their runs—dogs seen per mile. “It’s a fantastic metric,” says Nora Ayers, 29, a coach with Fleet Feet. “It gives people a different metric to focus on, completely unrelated to performance.”

The Oiselle Volée team in Indiana started a “social distance relay.” One person runs (or walks or bikes) their solo miles then tags another person on the team on Instagram, and so on. The team keeps a running tally of the total number of miles run on the team’s Instagram stories. “It’s a fun way to get people out the door and provides a little distraction,” says Emma Tillman, 40, one of the Volée team leads in Indiana. Plus, it’s been a way to unite team members across the state. The team started the relay about two weeks ago and has racked up roughly 200 miles.

If you miss your post-group run coffee (or drink)…

Sometimes the best part of your group run isn’t the workout itself. It’s hanging out with everyone afterwards. But running solo doesn’t mean you have to miss out on social get-togethers. The Fleet Feet in Durham has recreated its Thursday morning tempo run and coffee hour virtually. They send out the workout and at 7:30 a.m., runners log into Zoom and check in with each other about running, work, and life. “Many of us are floundering in our schedule right now. To have these specific times that you can count, it anchors the week and gives it a little more structure,” says Nora Ayers, 29, a coach with Fleet Feet. 

Instead of a morning meet-up, Corinne Fournier, 32, and her running buddies in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have reimagined their running group’s Wednesday evening social runs. “We run 6K at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and finish at a bar,” she says. “Last weekend, a few of the girls texted and said, ‘I’m running at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Do you want to have a video drink at 7:30 p.m. per the usual schedule?’ It’s been a nice way to keep with a routine.”

If you miss racing…

Even though the regular race season is canceled (for now), it doesn’t mean you can’t put your hard-earned training to good use. 

Take the Run Free Grand Prix, for example. It started as an idea for a mini-race series for five to six teams of friends and quickly ballooned into a full-blown free virtual race series, complete with 10K, one mile, 5K and half marathon races, multiple team divisions, age grading, and individual and team scoring. 120 teams from more than 35 states and six countries have registered. For each race in the series, runners must run and submit their times within a four-day period. When the race window opened up, it’s like watching live race results stream in, says Jason Ayer, one of the people behind Run Free Grand Prix. 

Even though you’re running alone, you feel accountable to your team, and maybe a little pressure to challenge yourself. “I’ll be honest that I was never into virtual racing prior to this. But after not being able to race and seeing the first sets of results, and now has me really motivated to do well,” says Leslie O’Dell, 43, Albany, New Hampshire, who is participating in the race series. “I put together a non-competitive team because I just wanted to have a team and for it to be fun. But individually I’m finding myself really into the competitive aspect at the Masters level.”

Matt Chittim, aka The Rambling Runner, has also created a free virtual run series with 10K, half marathon, and marathon races spread out between now and mid-May. You can participate in one or all of the races in the series. There’s a Strava leaderboard for each race that lets you to interact and cheer on fellow racers. Another Mother Runner has launched its Love the Run You’re With virtual race series ($99)—four races over four months (5K, 10K, 10 mile, and half marathon). You’ll get a four-month training plan, race bib, and monthly swag.

If you miss coached workouts…

Sometimes you just need a coach to give you workout and cheer you on. Apps like Charge ($14.99/month after seven-day free trial) offer live-coached workouts through its app, complete with rocking playlist. You can do the workout on a treadmill or outside. And you don’t just get generic tips. Instructors have access to real-time stats like mileage and pace so they can personalize their encouragement. There’s a chat feature too that allows runners to connect with each other before, during, and after the run. “You run together with people from all over the world,” says Dana Klein, a Charge running coach. “You can run side-by-side with your mom, sister, or friend even if you’re not the same pace.” 

Others are turning to Zwift, an app that lets runners from around the world log miles together in immersive, virtual worlds. There are numerous group runs like a Monday run club, weekly Tuesday track sessions hosted by triathletes Reece and Lucy Charles Barclay. There are also themed events each month, like April’s GoGo Rabbit series where runners choose whether to be in the run group or the chase pack. 

If you miss the kudos and conversation…

With no in-person group runs and meet-ups, several running groups have turned to slack to keep the conversation going. When Tracksmith closed its Trackhouse in Boston, they launched a slack channel for the local community to connect with others in the community for advice, workouts, and ideas. “It gives people the opportunity to be engaged,” says Lee Glandorf of Tracksmith, “It’s a micro-incentive to get out the door, especially when you aren’t feeling it.” 

Amanda Brooks, author of Run to the Finish: The Everyday Runner’s Guide to Avoiding Injury, Ignoring the Clock, and Loving the Run, started a virtual run club on Instagram. On Sundays, runners log their miles (tagging the photos with #runtothefinish) and then join Brooks as she chats with different experts on Instagram Live. “Community is the whole reason I do Instagram. This gives people a place to find community, to connect and feel like they are part of something bigger that will still be there after all this is over,” she says.

If you are looking for an even deeper connection with fellow runners, Sarah Canney has taken her Rise.Run.Retreat. online. During this three-day event ($147), you’ll have a chance to interact with other women and guest speakers and access live Q&A sessions. Her recent retreat drew 40 women from 19 states and three countries, including countries on lock-down like Italy. She’s hosting two more retreats this spring: April 24-26 and May 15-17.

If you miss accountability…

Many running groups have transition to virtual runs to help motivate their members to get out the door while social distancing. The Suncoast Milers in Sarasota, Florida, creates runs on Strava for two of the group’s popular workouts—Thursday tempo/hills and Saturday long run. Runners are encouraged to tag their runs #milersrunsolo “to remind us all that while we are running solo, we are doing it together, for each other,” says Lauren Udwari, a captain of the Suncoast Milers. “It’s a fun way to share our workouts and support our individual efforts to do what’s right for our running community: physical distancing for the greater good of our running community.”

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