Athletics: From at-home marathons to virtual 5Ks, running seizes lockdown spotlight


NEW YORK (Reuters) – It’s not that amateur runner Forrester Safford ever planned on running an entire marathon by himself in his four-car driveway – but this month, rather like George Mallory sizing up Everest, he decided to do it simply because the opportunity was there.

“It was totally on a whim, just to see if I could,” said the Culpeper, Virginia resident.

With a mix of high- and low-tech approaches, running is quickly emerging as the fitness routine of choice amid the U.S. coronavirus lockdown, which has shuttered gyms and forced the suspension of contact sports.

For Safford, this new normal meant lacing up his sneakers at 2 a.m. and completing the 26.2 miles (42.16 km) in loops and figure-8s outside his house with a cooler of water, energy blocks and Red Bull by his side.

“I figured I’d give it a mile and see what happened. And after a mile, I was like ‘I can do it, so let’s just try.’”

The accomplishment, documented in a map that tracked his GPS movements, went viral on Twitter with some 125,000 likes, with many on social media speculating that he had lost his faculties.

“My sister-in-law was hitting me up, like, ‘Hey,… people are saying you’re nuts and stuff like that.’ You know, it’s fine, I’m not,” the 38-year-old said.

With communal sports events on hold for the near future, Safford is one of many going either solo or online.

“As long as you’ve got the right shoes, it’s one of the easiest ways to just get out of your house and go get some exercise,” said Ajee Wilson, who took bronze in the 800 metres in the 2019 World Championships in Doha in worlds and competed in the Rio Games.

Wilson is part of a group of current or aspiring Olympians leading no-cost digital workouts for children in Manhattan through the Armory indoor track’s CityTrack and Little Feet programs.

The 25-year-old, who was gearing up for the U.S. Olympic Trials before the postponement of the Tokyo Games, told Reuters she jumped at the opportunity to lead one of the online classes.

“It’s super important to try to be active and try to have things to take your mind of the fact that we’re all kind of in the same boat, quarantined inside,” she said.

Other athletes participating include Olympic sprinter Natasha Hastings and shot putter Joe Kovacs, who won silver in Rio and gold in Doha.

With its in-person races on hold through June 30, New York Road Runners has launched a ‘virtual’ 5K race running through April 30 that allows athletes to compete against one another on their own time and on the course of their choosing.

It has generated a friendly online rivalry between 2018 Boston Marathon champ Des Linden and top woman distance runner Stephanie Bruce, who are both competing.

“(Now) it’s more important than ever to keep in touch with family, friends, and fellow runners,” said NYRR President and CEO Michael Capiraso.

For marathon man Safford, virtual events and off-the-cuff runs are affirmations of what can be accomplished in trying times.

“We have to get this over with,” said Safford. “I can run a marathon in my driveway, I figure people can find other stuff to do too at their house.”

Reporting By Amy Tennery