MONTREAL -- As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, one-by-one gyms, yoga studios, recreational soccer leagues, pickup basketball and all group sports shut down.

While any activity involving a group of people was out, people stuck in isolation and forced to be by themselves began running, walking and biking. Montreal parks and bike paths became populated by runners, walkers and cyclists looking to stay fit while avoiding groups.

“We’ve had a big uptick in our social media following,” said Running Room/Coin des Coureurs CEO John Stanton from his home in Edmonton.

Stanton returned from a business trip near the beginning of the pandemic, self-isolated for two weeks, and ran on his porch to get his daily runs in.

Running coach and marathoner Mia Phillips leads a group called “The Runners” in Kahnawake, and said activity on her Facebook page has increased since people have been forced to stay home.

“A lot are getting back out there, and the regulars are putting in a lot more kilometres than usual,” she said. “It’s a great way to cope with the stress.”

Saturday's balmy weather did cause some distress for public health officials that saw too many people along the Lachine Canal, in Mont-Royal Park or on Ile Notre-Dame forcing the city to make closures.

As a way of giving racers a way to scratch their competetive itch, The Running Room, which has three locations in Montreal, joined a slew of organizations and running circuits and launched a virtual run after its stores closed. Runners immediately began posting results.

“We just put that up and had 1,600 people sign up,” said Stanton, who said the company is planning a virtual family walk, 10K, and other runs.

“I think it will be bragging rights five years from now when we reflect and say: ‘Remember 2020 when the virus hit and we all had to stay inside,’” said Stanton.

Virtual races have popped up across the web with names like “2020 Social Distancing 6K – We’re All In This Together, But Six Feet Apart”, “The Great Toilet Paper Chase of 2020” and “The Sloth Run.”

The Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend typically kicks off the marathon season at the end of May, but was forced to cancel its event. However, organizers of the country’s largest running festival will hold a virtual race weekend with details to be announced.

Phillips plans on running the Ottawa virtual marathon.


All health ministers have recommended exercise as a way to deal with stress, while maintaining social distancing, and many seem to have heard the call.

Social media is now bursting with posts of people doing home workouts using milk jugs, running greater distances and swimming in bathtubs with a tether or on stool using resistance bands.

Stanton feels it will be hard for the gyms, studios, swimming pools, running clubs and other group exercise businesses to bounce back once the virus spread subsides and they’re allowed to reopen.

“In the last little while there’s been an explosion in group fitness,” he said. “They’re going to have a difficult time when we try to get back to normal obviously because people are going to be a little concerned about going on that machine that somebody else has been sweating on or riding on a bike that was used by somebody else.”

Even with running, Stanton feels running groups won’t be as popular as solo runs.

“You’re going to be a little concerned about that, and the social interaction that people gravitated to… I can see them being not quite as popular,” he said.


Though the retail stores are closed, online sales continue out of The Running Room’s distribution centre in Edmonton and select stores.

Stanton said the Running Room was forced to reduce its staff to 130 employees from 800, which was not easy.

“As a business owner, you feel an obligation and a big sense of ownership with your staff because they’re the people that make you successful, and you feel almost like you’re letting people down when you make those cuts,” he said. “Hopefully we can get back in the near future.”

The downtick in retail sales, however, may be offset in the long run by a surge in interest in lacing up runners and heading out for a job by yourself.

“Right now, we’re like every business, we’re getting it on the chin, but the interest in running, and the interest in walking has skyrocketed,” said Stanton. “If you go into any neighbourhood anywhere in Canada, and watch, You’ll see way more runners and walkers out there than ever before.”

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