Opinion: CJ Opinion

People respond to lockdowns by eschewing gyms for the track and the trail

People are running more, and, mostly, they’d rather do it alone.

So finds a new study by RunRepeat, which specializes in shoes for athletes and studies the fitness industry.

The reasons people are running are obvious, at least to me. But the trend, in my mind, smacks of government overreach as that relates to picking one company over another.

This company, or brand, wins. That one loses.

In North Carolina, Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper closed gyms in March 2020. We all know why. He allowed them to reopen months later, at starkly limited capacity. 

Some gym owners, well, threw in the towel. About 25% of gyms in the U.S. were expected to close by the end of last year, another RunRepeat study found. As I wrote last year, the gym and health club industry lost an estimated $14 billion from mid-March to Aug. 31, according to data compiled by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

The global pandemic is the biggest disruption the fitness industry has ever faced, wrote Nick Rizzo of RunRepeat.

People canceled gym memberships as demand for in-home fitness equipment spiked. Consumers’ appetites for health and fitness — whether in the form of gyms, workout studies, shoes, bicycles, rowing machines, etc. — didn’t wane. It probably never will. The governor simply removed from the market major fitness options, including indoor gyms. 

Cooper wasn’t alone in his response to the pandemic, of course. Gyms closed throughout the country, but North Carolina was among the last states to reopen them.

In the meantime, people started to run, which is good news for companies like Saucony and Brooks. Not so much for the neighborhood gyms, or even the big chains. Stalwart gym Gold’s filed bankruptcy last year, citing the pandemic. Joining Gold’s, Business Insider reports, were Cyc Fitness, YogaWorks, Flywheel Sports, Town Sports International, 24 Hour Fitness, and Modell’s Sporting Goods.

The latest RunRepeat survey of 3,961 runners, released Wednesday, May 12, found 28.76% of current runners started running during the pandemic. Of these new-pandemic runners, 19.82% are less likely to participate in in-person races over the next 12 months. Further, the study finds, new runners are 115.37% more in favor of virtual races than pre-pandemic runners, and the primary motivation — some 72% — is physical health, up 18.03% from runners who began running before the pandemic.

RunRepeat says outdoor activities such as running were the top fitness trends in 2020-21.

“This study shows that there has been a significant boom in running during the pandemic,” RunRepeat says. “The situation and circumstances that these people have taken up running are drastically different than their pre-pandemic counterparts.”

Running is good, and so is working out in gyms and other health facilities. A governor deciding on preferred activities for people isn’t. About 36% of North Carolinians 18 and older are fully vaccinated; 75% of those 65 or older. In the U.S., 45% of people in the first category are fully vaccinated; 72% in the latter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks indoors, and social distancing is an option, not an order.

What seems clear is that people who want the vaccine have received at least one dose. Reaching some magical number, as Cooper suggests, is a fool’s game, yet — for reasons political and tyrannical — the governor refuses to fully open the economy. He’s even intent on allowing the Carolina Hurricanes to start the Stanley Cup playoffs at a disadvantage by refusing to lift limits for fans.

“I want to be clear that we followed the science here,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing on Thursday, according to Fox News. “While this may serve as an incentive for some people to get vaccinated, that is not the purpose, our purpose here is as a public health agency to follow the science and to follow where we are with regard to the science and what is safe for individuals to do,” she said.

Follow the science, she says. Hmmm. What a concept.