In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Genevieve Latting was in search of a new hobby. The Union-based licensed clinical social worker needed something to cure the restlessness she — and her two border collies — were facing amid their new routines. 

Latting was not alone. Washington’s sidewalks and trails were among those around the country that gained new faces, and feet, during the pandemic. A recent study from athletic shoe review company RunRepeat found that of nearly 4,000 runners surveyed, over a quarter began running during the pandemic. And World Athletics found that 20 percent of runners started running more over the past year.

The Daily Run Club, (DRC), a loosely organized community and Facebook page that encourages runners of all experience levels in the area, saw several new people join over the past year, pushing the group past 1,100 members, according to leader Meghan McCarrick. 

“It is undeniable that there are lots of new faces out running,” McCarrick said. “That happens every year when the weather gets warm, but we’ve never seen so many people downtown, around Lions Lake, on the riverfront trail or on the Katy.”

‘A sense of normalcy’

For new and longtime runners in the area, running during the pandemic gave them routine and structure. Member Cara Pier said she doubled her yearly miles compared to 2019 and ran her first marathon in May after a year of training and getting virtual encouragement from the DRC.

“Running is what kept me sane during this whole pandemic,” she said. “It was a way to keep myself active and challenge myself when everything else seemed out of control.”

Another member, Bridget Nicole, said running became the only thing she could do when she found out she was pregnant a week before schools went remote.

“Teaching is my life. I could no longer work and do what I loved,” she said. “While running, nothing else mattered, and things felt normal for a bit.”

Among RunRepeat survey responders, around 73 percent of the new pandemic runners, compared with 66 percent of pre-pandemic runners, said physical health was their top reason for running. It’s also the reason Daily Run Club founder David Beaty started the activity when he was in high school.

However, in the decades since, Beaty has come to appreciate the camaraderie among other runners more than any other benefit. 

“It’s always involved trying to stay in shape and control the weight, but for me, really, it’s getting to do this with other people,” said Beaty, head pastor of the CrossWalk Church in Union. “It’s the encouragement factor. To me, the entire benefit of the Daily Run Club is the encouragement that we give to each other and sense of accountability.” 

Beaty started the club with his son almost 10 years ago after seeing a running challenge in Runner’s World magazine encouraging people to run every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

“The idea was that that’s when we all tend to eat more than we should, so why not also make a commitment to exercising every day,” he said. “I’d say there were 15 or 20 people that first year — mostly just friends and some local people. But the club grew from there.” 

Beaty and other long-established runners hope the new pandemic runners are able to enjoy the social benefits as well as the physical. The RunRepeat study found that new runners are 115 percent more likely to run a virtual, not in-person, race, and less than 12 percent of them listed social interaction as a reason to run. 

McCarrick said the DRC didn’t promote group runs until vaccines were widely available, and the longtime members missed the time together. As the threat of the virus waned, new runners such as Latting said that although they initially started running in 2020 to fill time and get in shape, the hobby soon led to “so much more.”

“I have met so many amazing individuals through running and the (club),” Latting said. “I have gained more self-confidence, physical and mental strength and the feeling of just being free while running.”