The number of people completing an official marathon nearly doubled between 2021 and 2022, according to a new study.

Strava’s 2022 Year in Sport revealed the running boom that happened during Covid lockdowns has continued across the globe, including the Illawarra. 

The Wollongong Track Club (WTC) has grown over the last couple of years from a ‘humble’ online group chat into a thriving community, and it continues to welcome runners of all abilities into its crew.

Wollongong Track Club co-founder Mitchell Ryan has experienced how running can help manage stress.

“We saw through lockdown a lot of people struggle with mental health. The amount of people who joined the different running forums and groups just skyrocketed, it was huge,” he said.

“Running was allowing people to be more aware of their mental health and helped with their ability to cope with the isolation and lockdowns and it was a really, really big thing. Not only just for WTC but for more casual runners, just being able to get out into the world and do something that they can focus on.”

The World Health Organisation reported a 25 per cent increase in depression and anxiety worldwide in the first year of the pandemic and data revealed many took-up running as a preferred form of exercise during this time. A RunRepeat survey found found more than 28 per cent of current runners started running during the height of the pandemic, when indoor gyms were forced to close their doors.

There is strong evidence of the positive impact of running on mental health.  Australian College of Physical Education sports science lecturer  Dr Rhearne Ryan said cardio exercise also benefits the brain.

“Physical activity has been recognised to benefit mental health since the mid-80’s, however, mental health conditions may also impact on people’s motivation to exercise, to get outside and run, independent of their knowledge of its benefits. Maybe this is one reason why so many runners enjoy running in groups, like WTC,” Dr Ryan said.

“Exercising in groups is known to promote adherence. The sense of belonging and extrinsic motivation that groups of likeminded people bolsters is important to encourage people to lace up their joggers and head out for a run, in turn assisting with reducing their stress and improving their mental health.”

Local runner and WTC member, Lauren Mitchell said running in a group has rejuvenated her love for the sport.

“It’s just an inclusive, amazing group of people, that we can be ourselves, we can get out there, we can chat, whatever’s said on the run, stays on the run. We’re just a really great group of people that get together and have a passion for running, which is really fun,” Ms Mitchell said. 

Get involved: Visit the Wollongong Track Club Instagram for upcoming events @wollongongtrackclub

Feature image: Wollongong Track Club