Runners are able to meet in person and virtually to exercise and stay connected
By Justin Hecht
Forming friendships and staying active — daunting, seemingly insurmountable challenges for college students during the age of COVID-19.
At Western Washington University, there is one club that can fulfill both of these aching desires.
Western’s Running Club officially started meeting in person again at the beginning of fall quarter.
Pre-COVID-19, the club had been meeting Monday through Friday to run, do core exercises and hang out.
When everything shut down, the club stopped meeting. If members felt safe to go out, they would run by themselves, Running Club President Elisha Klco said.
Before classes began this quarter, a potential Running Club safety guideline was created and brought to Associated Students club activities manager Jenn Cook, and she gave them the OK, Klco said.
Safety is of the utmost concern for Running Club, said Keaton Schwark, the Running Club’s vice president. If someone shows up to a run without a mask, they are not allowed to run with the club that day.
Normally the runners start together as a big group and naturally spread out as different people run at different paces.
To decrease chances for exposure, runners now stagger themselves by how fast they want to run before they head out so that they are social distancing from the start, Schwark said.
When runners spread themselves out they can be in groups of two people, but even then they are supposed to be as far apart as possible, Klco said.
“They’re still not getting any closer than you would to anybody at the grocery store,” Klco said.
If runners cannot be at least 6 feet away from people — including fellow runners or random people they might pass — they are required to keep their masks on.
Schwark said the most frustrating part about operating during the pandemic was having to run while wearing a mask.
“The majority of the club would agree that they would rather wear it and run with somebody than not wear it and run without,” Schwark said. “Running with other people just makes running that much better.”
Some routes the runners often take are too crowded for COVID-19 runs, such as the beloved boardwalk run, Schwark said.
“That’s been unfortunate — not being able to run in some locations — but it just opens up more opportunities for us to find different places to run,” Schwark said.
Leah Etling, the Running USA marketing and communications director, shared has a national perspective on how COVID-19 is affecting the sport.
“It’s been really hard to watch our industry suffer through this experience. And now we’re seeing small mom-and-pop race production companies going out of business, or definitely seeing a lot of layoffs at some of the bigger organizations,” Etling said.
Some businesses have been able to pivot as there are “a lot of manufacturing companies who serve the running space that are now making masks and PPE,” Etling said.
Running USA’s “Global Runner Survey” is currently circulating and will provide answers and data to questions about how this year is affecting runners, Etling said.
Running Club has held daily Zoom core workouts since spring. About an hour after the runners finish their run of the day, they join in on Zoom for about 30 minutes to an hour, Running Club workout coordinator David Blalock said.
At most, 15-20 minutes of that time is dedicated to core strengthening, but after that people stay on just to talk and catch up, Blalock said.
This provides an opportunity to stay connected and exercise with runners who aren’t in town or can’t participate in group runs, Schwark said, adding that he hopes the Zoom workouts will last post-COVID-19.
Sadie Spektor, the Running Club’s secretary, has been in California since March. Spektor said she has missed being with the club in person.
“If I don’t have work, I am at those core meetings because that’s the only way that I can really be involved with Running Club,” Spektor said. “So, I’m there pretty religiously if I can.”
Running Club is much more than just a group of people exercising together, she added; the community aspect is huge.
There are plans for virtual movie nights and other “get-togethers,” Spektor said.
“Running buddies are like your therapists,” Spektor said. “Even if you don’t necessarily talk about deep subjects, everyone’s really open, and you can talk about basically anything with them.”
Etling said she is glad to see running is still bringing people hope during the pandemic.
“When you can’t go to the gym and you might not be able to participate in an organized race, you can still put on your running shoes and hit the road,” Etling said. “If you have a pair of shoes, you can be a runner. That’s really all it takes. That and the desire to get out the door,” Etling said.