One day when she was in her 30s, local resident Andrea Russell laced up a neglected pair of athletic shoes and began running to relieve the pressure of working long hours. A self-professed former "gym rat," Russell was finding it increasingly difficult to make time for the gym. Being self-employed, she quickly realized that she could easily take 20 minutes any time to head out her front door for a jog.
"The first time out, I wasn't sure if I was walking or running," recalls Russell, "but I quickly realized that the activity was enhancing my mental clarity and focus, while melting away the stresses of the day. 'That was easy,' I thought. At a time in my life when I needed to simplify, running couldn't be simpler." Russell used to maintain a regular running routine, but this time the activity felt different. "Before, it was a painful regimen - something I had to do. Now, I was running for different reasons, doing it for myself instead of to myself. It felt liberating!"
Russell is not alone in her enthusiasm for the sport of running, which has experienced a major resurgence in popularity in North America and around the world over the past few years. This year's Boston Marathon attracted a record 36,000 runners - 9,000 more than 2013, despite the tragic bombings that marred the venerable event last year. From Chicago to Berlin to Toronto to New York, large urban marathons are selling out almost immediately. After a rush to sign up online led to server crashes, many big races have switched to a lottery system for registration due to unprecedented number of runners wishing to participate. In Southern Georgian Bay, events from marathons and half marathons to triathlons and even ultramarathons are attracting record numbers of runners every year, and the list of local races continues to grow.
Why is running so popular? "It's cheap and accessible - all you need is a good pair of shoes and the open road. And it is the most basic of functions - an expression of our natural abilities, relying only on your own power, muscles and steam," Russell explains. She also attributes much of today's running craze to best-selling books, like Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and the spin-off media attention they have generated. "In the '80s, people flocked to gyms. 'No pain, no gain' was the fitness mantra. But in the last decade, this transitioned to a more holistic, body-mind-spirit approach to fitness. Now people are looking for activities that nurture all those things, and running delivers all those."
Russell is co-founder of The Georgian Triangle Running Club (GTRC), a local organization with about 50 active members, and growing. Locally, she credits popularity of running to what she calls a collective group of people with common interests. "There has been a groundswell of good health in our area over the past few years," Russell observes. "A lot of people are moving to Southern Georgian Bay for the active lifestyle, the abundance of activities and the amazing natural beauty the region has to offer."
The Georgian Triangle Running Club focuses on various running disciplines, both competitive and non-competitive: road and distance, trail and hill, triathlon, beginner and youth. Membership is "amazingly diverse," with novices as young as 12 and runners in their 80s. One club member participated in this year's Boston Marathon.