The rise in running: how the 2022 Manchester Therme Marathon highlights the need for speed

On Sunday, April 3rd, the Manchester Therme Marathon commenced just after a short turnover of six months from their previous marathon in October.

By: Sloane Caetano

The pandemic altered many aspects of our lives, and in more ways than none, slowed everything down. However, for some, the opportunity to flourish their fitness capabilities meant that taking up running would kick off an adventure filled with little regret.

Runners shoes just moments after leaving the start line

Covid-19 limited our chance to continue with our regular leisure activities. Although after two long years, convincing evidence has emerged proving how much running has grown during these difficult times.

According to new findings from Neilson – the official research and intelligence supplier to World Athletics – more than a fifth of all runners from a survey reveal that they run more often than they did previously as a result of Covid-19.

Another poll led by athletic shoe review company RunRepeat conducted a survey of 3,961 runners which revealed that 28.76% of these participants began running within the first 14 months of Covid.

What these alarming statistics suggest is twofold: First, that physical activity perhaps wasn’t being taken as seriously as it should have been by many, and Two; that once the pandemic was nearing its end, events that celebrate these statistics – like marathons – would be blooming with new runners.

‘The fact that we had 38% of new runners shows how much lockdown has played a role’

Busy crowd of runners and supporters getting ready before starting

The Therme Manchester Marathon is one of the UK’s leading running events, known for its rapid, smooth and peaceful route. The 26.2-mile challenge welcomes all runners from elite, record-breaking athletes, to those who never saw themselves participating in such an event.

Emma Sayers, Senior Marketing and Communication Executive helps with the PR side of the event. She says, “Our kind of main goal is to get everyone signed up; I was just really proud that we got to see 24,000 people register to run.”

It is this kind of event coming out of Covid that gives these running newcomers the opportunity to put their hard work into practice. It makes the experience that much sweeter, though, when event coordinators do their best to create a friendly, welcoming event.

“One thing we’re really proud of is being really friendly and welcoming everyone to come in,” Sayers says, “And in doing a deeper dive into the data, 38% of the people who ran on Sunday were actually doing their first marathon.”

Although many people looked at the Manchester Therme Marathon as their first running event, this kind of opportunity was not anything new to avid runner, Isobel Sayers.

Isobel smiling before heading into the Athletes Village

Isobel started her running adventure at the start of the pandemic after experiencing an ectopic pregnancy which followed with an unfortunate decline in her overall mental health.

She describes her experience as she says, “I was going through a horrific breakup at the time. Everything that could’ve gone bad went bad and I looked in the mirror one day and just asked myself ‘what are you doing?’ I just knew that something had to change”.

After turning her mindset into a good cause, Isobel decided to raise money for Ectopic Pregnancy Trust – a charity that significantly helped her – which led her to train for a half marathon.

“I ran my first ever 5k in 37 minutes, and now I can run them in 20,” she goes on and suggests, “I say this and I always will to anyone considering running: for mental health, do running, do some form of exercise, I’ve reaped the benefits myself and only wish for others to as well.”

In January of 2021 after substantially improving on her running, she decided to start a separate Instagram running account that – just over a year later – has a shocking 10,300 followers, highlighting the growing statistics and awareness of running post-Covid.

She says, “It’s really built over the past year, you don’t realize how many people actually enjoy running until you start a running Instagram account. The majority of my followers share the same story as me in the sense that they started running over lockdown and they’ve just not stopped.

“People like to engage more if they can see you, and sometimes I think ‘ugh I really can’t be bothered today’ but if it means I’m engaging an audience and helping others take up running, it’s a no brainer.”

Isobel reminisces one of the many lockdown running challenges, the globally known 5k run where through social media, everyone could take part in this run for £5, and then nominate five friends or family to do the same.

As positive as this initiative was to distract everyone from the difficult times that still stood ahead, it did pose a greater challenge for these runners – that is to stick with these practices and create a regular hobby out of this engagement.

One of the many waves heading off just as the starting countdown concluded

Elite runners like Isobel who prepares for a marathon in an intense training system fell within a tough, competitive bracket. The elite field was the strongest to date, as the Therme Manchester Marathon played host to the Commonwealth Games qualifiers, European Athletics Championship trials and the European 50K Championship qualifiers.

The competition was tight for the position of the first finisher with Jonny Mellor taking first place with a time of 2:10:46. Still, it is crucial to understand the experience of someone who took up running recently and never saw themselves completing a marathon, like Steven Bunch.

Glasgow born and bred, Bunch looked at training for the Therme Marathon as an opportunity to get active for the new year. He says, “Dedicated training started a little bit in December for me, two or three days mostly during the week. Kids would go to sleep and I’d go out and run, four or five miles but raise it to half a marathon on the weekends.”

Although this new challenge brought lots of excitement, Bunch understood the great challenge and knew many nerves would have to be navigated throughout his journey.

He describes his setbacks as he says, “I felt a bit nervous a week before the race. I started to panic thinking ‘what if I forget something?’ ‘what if I’ve not done enough training?’”

Pushing past these concerns Bunch made sure to remind himself of the greater positive impact this marathon would have. “I feel like all my nerves started to vanish when I thought about my kids – I’m in my 40s and want to get healthy for them, it means a lot to me.”

One runner showing their support for Ukraine with the exclusive race bib

Not only do the event coordinators from the Manchester Therme Marathon put such efforts to create a welcoming atmosphere for running newbies like Bunch, but they decided to use their platform empathetically in response to the Ukrainian crisis.

There was an opportunity for runners to donate important funds to the Disaster Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. For a donation of £10 or more, runners were able to purchase a unique edition, additional race bib to be worn on their backs, showing the flag of Ukraine. Over 2,500 runners purchased the bib with £31,000 raised in donations.

Raising awareness to this cause is just one positive initiative that the Manchester Therme Marathon used its platform for and reflects the overall friendly, supportive nature of the city.

Sayers puts great emphasis on this proud feeling as she says, “We had just over 1000 volunteers this year which is amazing because we wouldn’t be able to do running events without them. We also had about 100,000 people lining the streets – some of which were family and friends – but we had a lot of people just from Manchester out and about wanting to cheer people on and show their support.

“Everyone’s seeing the value that being physically active has, not only just on mental and physical health but it brings forth a greater ‘cheer’ to the entire city.”

Families and friends showing their support to runners on the finish line at the Leeds Half Marathon – Sunday May 8th, 2022

‘Running is everything to me’

Local to Leeds and keen to participate in any marathon he can get his hands on, Andy Warrender took part in his 23rd run in Manchester. Finishing his race with a time of 3:39 meant breaking his Boston marathon record of 3:43.

Andy’s finishing face after the Leeds Half Marathon – on Sunday May 8th, 2022

Warrender’s training preparation process for this marathon began back in January when he would dedicate only two days to rest, and the others as intense running and walking days to recover from his previous injury.

Getting closer to the race, he says, “The only thing you can do in the last two weeks is harm yourself. You need to be on that start line fresh, you get to a point where you realise ‘I’m not going to improve any more than I have for this race.’”

Warrender acknowledges his connection with running, and like many, fears what his life would look like without the routine of it in his life.

He stresses, “It’s everything, it’s part of me now. It really helps me personally in terms of fitness, it drives me, and I do acknowledge how easy it is to get a bit carried away with it, but the rewards always outweigh this.”

Although Covid shed some light on the dark times for many people taking up running, being personally affected by Covid meant that Warrender’s regular routine took a turn for the worse.

He explains, “I did get Covid last September and I had to stay in for 10 days. It was just awful not being able to do anything, I couldn’t go out and run like I normally do and it did remind me how important running is to me.”

A close up of Andy’s bib with his rewarding medal hanging over

Luckily for Warrender, he could participate in parkrun, a national inclusive event that occurs every Saturday morning and welcomes all runners to join in a park setting near to them.

He says, “I definitely see how much Covid has contributed to people taking up running and it shows at these events. I speak to so many people at parkrun who tell me that the pandemic changed their fitness strengths, and more importantly elevated their mental health because they started running.”

With an unfortunate delay because of Covid, it was not until October 2021 that saw cities like Preston parkun welcome back runners, in a Covid-friendly manner.

A number of changes had to be made to remain compliant with the parkrun HQ COVID framework, some of which included: a shorter run briefing, no musical instruments at the musical tree, and no birthday or club milestone bibs. Nonetheless, bringing back this initiative as soon as Covid permitted proves the rise in running statistics.

Runner quickly checking his time on his watch

Isobel shares her gratitude for parkrun as she says, “Quite a few times when I’ve had to get up early to train, I’ve questioned myself thinking ‘Am I enjoying this, or am I doing it because I have to get up and I have to run?’

“I think it’s really important to mix your training block with a bit of fun, and I did that by doing the parkrun on a Saturday which puts that bit of fun to the end of a heavy training week.”

Isobel suffered from a cartilage injury from the October Manchester Marathon after not preparing by properly training. She says, “I had to basically learn to run again altogether because of how serious this injury was I could barely walk.

Runner showing his distress after injuring ankle during the Leeds Half Marathon – On Sunday May 8th, 2022

“Leading up to my last marathon, I had what they call maranoia – extreme nerves and stress, but as I got closer to Sunday, I only felt excitement because I reminded myself, ‘what worse could happen that hasn’t already?’”

Those finishing steps play a vital reminder for runners to remember why they sign up and create such hopeful goals.

‘I just want to get back out there’

Runner stretching leg muscles after Leeds Half Marathon – on Sunday May 8th, 2022

Isobel addresses how her optimism going into this marathon led her to feel completely proud of herself. She says, “Honestly, I felt like I flew around the course. I met a half-marathon personal best as well, my expectations were definitely exceeded.

“Since Sunday I’ve been so restless, I can’t have a week off. I’m such a competitive person, and now that I’ve qualified for London and Boston, I just want to get back out there.”

For first-time marathoner Bunch, speaking about his experience after the Therme Marathon is filled with little regret. He chuckles as he says, “It was brilliant, it was so much better when it was done. I was using this marathon as a way to keep fit, and not put too much pressure on myself on finishing time.

“I’m looking at signing up for the London Marathon with my pals if I can get a charity spot. I used to doubt all my friends when they would try and get me out for a run, but now that I’ve done the whole thing, I can easily say that my running journey isn’t ending here.”

Although these runners all have different reasons as to why they got into running, a unanimous feeling is definitely shared in that their running journey is only beginning.

Couple smiling taking a photo after completing the Leeds Half Marathon together – on Sunday May 8th, 2022