by Debra Melani
Whether donning colorful tutus or making a marathon a girls’ day out, the current running scene is attracting a broader group of fitness-seekers mindful of the enhanced benefits of a more well-rounded approach. Rather than pursuing fierce competition and personal bests, these runners are focusing on social bonding and overall well-being, likely boosting their fitness success.
Two main factors are fueling what’s shaping up as a new running boom: women and social media. “The first running-boom era was male-centric and competitive,” observes Ryan Lamppa, of Running USA. He’s referring to the 1970s, when, largely thanks to 1972 Summer Olympic marathon gold medal winner Frank Shorter and The Complete Book of Running, by James Fixx, many were inspired to hook up Walkmans, lace up sneakers and train for distance races. “Today’s running boom is female-centric, much bigger and more focused on health and fitness and completion, rather than competition.”
Forget elapsed running time; just cross the finish line and have fun doing it, seems to be a growing mantra. Women’s participation hit an all-time high in recent years, comprising 56 percent of the more than 15.5 million runners finishing U.S. races sanctioned by Running USA in 2012 and 61 percent of U.S. half-marathoners in 2013.
“Women tend to be more social and more in tune with their health overall, and that’s definitely a driving force,” Lamppa says.
Couple the female factor with social media-driven, non-traditional race events and the result is explosive. “Events are fun, community-centered and sometimes charity-driven,” Lamppa says of the many innovations, from paint-splashing 5Ks to mud-slinging obstacle course action, which attracted 4 million entrants last year.
These trends could indicate America’s collective progress toward fitness as studies show the social factor plays a huge motivational role in participation. “I think running adherence strengthens when there is accountability and social support,” remarks Englewood, New Jersey, sports psychologist Greg Chertok, citing a metaanalysis of data in Sport & Exercise Psychology Review that backs his notion.
For example, such social exercise events inspire happiness. “If you are physically close to someone that is happy, eager and optimistic, you are naturally going to share those feelings,” explains Chertok, who is also a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine. “Just through social connectedness alone, you’ll gain boosted performance and mood.”
As a finisher of two Tough Mudders (an intense obstacle course challenge), Chertok can personally testify to the benefits of camaraderie. “It’s just like if a married couple got stuck in a storm and had to brave the elements; the act of doing something challenging together is very bonding.”
Simply joining a recreational running group—also increasingly popular and often social mediadriven— can bolster success. “When a bunch of individuals work together to pursue a common goal, they are incentivized by the group,” Chertok remarks. “You’ll run at a faster clip or go a longer distance if you are with a group, because each runner values the group and doesn’t want to let members down.”
Mixing things up can also improve running performance and decrease risks of injury, enhancing long-term staying power. One study found that eight weeks of simple strength-training exercises by conditioned runners boosted their running performances over their conditioned, but non-strength-training peers, as noted in the Health & Fitness Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.
As for injury prevention, everybody, regardless of sport, needs to cross-train, advises Mindy Caplan, a wellness coach in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “In any sport that you engage in, you end up working certain muscles the same way all the time. Then those tighter muscles start to pull on the joints and without stretching, you end up with problems.” Moving the body in different ways helps, and working on stretching and flexibility can elongate muscles and protect tendons and joints.
“The new runner of this second running boom has much more information about training, health and fitness, and injury prevention,” says Lamppa, who occasionally cross-trains by biking and includes some yogarelated stretching as part of his regular routine. “You have to have balance in your running as in your life. If you can get to that point, you will get a very positive response from your body and mind.”
Freelance journalist Debra Melani writes about health care and fitness from Lyons, CO. Connect at Debra Melani.com or DMelani@msn.com. RUNNER’S “HI” Women and Social Media Revolutionize the Sport by Debra Melani