Long before racing or the concept of exercise, running existed as a mode of transport. We ran long distances to hunt, to relay messages and to celebrate being human. We ran because it felt good and it got us from A to B faster than walking. We ran because that’s what humans do.
Now we’re here in the 21st century, where it's not uncommon to drive to the gym to run on a treadmill, or to fly across the world to take part in a race, and we forget that running is first and foremost a mode of transport. Pick a destination, lace up, run. What could be more simple, and yet so at odds with what’s normal?
But things are changing: things must change.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to alter our behavior. Coronavirus requires us to rethink the way we live alongside each other, and in particular how we travel. The idea of starting and finishing every working day by standing on a packed commuter train, pushed up against strangers and sharing a limited supply of recycled air, is even less appealing now than it was in the innocent days of 2019.
All around the world, city governments are reclaiming street space to create the infrastructure to encourage active transport. From Boston to Berlin, Los Angeles to London, Sydney to Chicago, walking, running and biking are being promoted as the safest, most socially responsible ways to navigate the urban environment. Climate change was going to force governments to take action eventually, Coronavirus has simply forced their hand. The good news for us is that running to work, or to meet friends for coffee, or to pick up a few forgotten groceries will be easier as transport infrastructure is repurposed for active transport, and budgets are funneled away from road building and towards facilities that work for people, not machines.
“You’re seeing a revolutionary reclaiming of street space for people on a scale we’ve never seen before, and it’s a historic turning point for cities. The pandemic didn’t just transform our streets, it revealed the streets we needed all the time. The old road order we were used to, this car-centric city, it wasn’t working before. We had 1.3 million people dying on our streets, 4.2 million dying every year from pollution, and we were driving towards destructive climate change. It’s always been a fight to reclaim streets for people, but the story is different now. You can see the blank slate for what is possible.”
Janette Sadik-Khan, former New York transport commissioner on the Reasons to be Cheerful podcast.
Run commuting is nothing new. From Kenyan kids who build a world-beating base just getting to school each day, to sub-elite amateur marathoners who rack up 100 miles per week getting to and from work, commuting on foot is a time-efficient, healthy and inexpensive way to get to where you need to be. Sure, there are barriers, and of course, there are limitations on how much we can run each day, but with planning and practice, it’s eminently possible, and enjoyable - very few people miss driving to work, but people who use active transport actually miss their commute.