Why the hell is everyone running?

One minute we were all sat hibernating in our Oodies and crocs, and now everyone and their dog are running half-marathons. But actually why? What’s new about one of the oldest forms of exercise? And should we be getting in on it?

All of a sudden, a lot of Gen Z seems to be in their running era. These days, you can’t flick through a few Instagram stories without seeing a screenshot of a Strava running route, or a 0.5 of someone with a hydration vest strapped to their chest.

We wanted to find out what the fuss is all about, so three members of the Messy team took on their local Park Run…

But we’ve all heard of runner’s high, Couch to 5k, and the health benefits of cardio, so what is actually new about running?

Well, for many who are on their running game, it’s not just a form of exercise but socialising too. There are countless running clubs across the country popping up left, right and centre. Some are even aimed at specific demographics to help foster friendships over a love of running. ‘Girls That Run’ prides itself on being a safe and supportive space for all women, and has over 100,000 members on Facebook. ‘Run With Purpose’ is a social enterprise aimed at helping men improve their mental health through group runs. Some people have even turned to running as a dating opportunity.

Running doesn’t just facilitate social connection in real life though, it does it in the digital space too. A major contributor to the rise of running in the last year is the physical exercise tracking app Strava. Though its primary purpose is to track users’ exercise, it is an entire social platform in itself. The use of the phrase “If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen” is prolific and explains how, much like the Instagramming of a night out with friends, users feel inclined to prove what they’ve done. The result? Its use has skyrocketed. 

On the app, you can track your routes with GPS, join challenges, share photos from your runs, and follow and message friends. But like all the other social platforms, there’s the good and the bad.

As is all too familiar with social media, Strava does lend itself to a competitive and (ironically) unhealthy environment for its users. It’s common for people to lie about their runtime and speed, and the encouraged visibility of run statistics can cause feelings of insecurity in users over how active their lifestyle is compared to others. Although the original aim of Strava was to foster an encouraging running community, for some it has snowballed into another digital method of receiving validation from others, which has its risks.

The same can be said for ‘RunningTok’. There’s an endless stream of ‘Come on a run with me’ videos, with distances ranging from 5 kilometres to ultra-marathons. TikTok users are documenting what they wear, what snacks they take, and how long they run for. On the one hand, a positive and motivating community has emerged, but on the other is again the risk of external validation and guilt.

So is it worth giving running a go? Well, we at Messy are here for it. But what we would say is that you don’t need to be training to rival Mo Farah, you don’t need to first go and buy £300 running shoes, and lastly, don’t start running just so you can post about it. Do it for you and you only. Anyway, they’ll all move onto cycling tomorrow.

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