As events return, amateur athletes exert their pent-up demand for travel

“I would go crazy” if he continued to be stuck running errands practically at home, as happened during the height of the pandemic, Thompson said. “I can’t stand to sit still.”

Neither did the roughly 30,000 other enthusiastic visitors who, like him, descended on Walt Disney World for the resort’s annual marathon weekend, the in-person version of which was canceled the previous year — or active vacationers elsewhere. who like to combine travel with a running or cycling event or a triathlon.

“There’s this pent-up demand for a vacation and to have a place to get away from it all, but at the same time for people to do something they love, which is running,” said Faron Kelley, vice president of Disney who oversees the company’s runDisney division.

The Signature Marathon Weekend sold out almost immediately — much faster than in previous years — as did many of runDisney’s upcoming events, including a new collection of distances slated for the first week of April.

“There’s a real kind of thing that clings to life,” Kelley said, in which people decided not to put off their to-do list aspirations any longer. “They think, ‘This is when I’m going to do this and make it happen.’ “

And not just at Walt Disney World. Other destination sporting events are reporting big spikes in interest. RAGBRAI, which stands for Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — the nation’s largest bicycle touring event — reports registrations up 20% from pre-pandemic levels. UK-based Sports Tours International, which handles travel arrangements for major marathons around the world, expects all to fill up quickly, based on early indications, a spokeswoman said.

“That momentum is going to carry for a while,” Kelley said. “People are spending a lot of time at home and the ability to combine holidays with a run – that’s going to continue to be a big trend.”

The runners are particularly eager to get back on the road. Twenty percent in a survey by running events industry association RunningUSA said they were likely to participate in more races after the pandemic than before. Sixty percent said frustration over COVID cancellations had them excited for future events. And 29% said they choose events that take place in places they want to visit.

People ride the Staten Island Ferry ahead of the New York City Marathon, November 7, 2021. GABRIELA BHASKAR/The New York Times

There are reasons why travel and competing in person at sporting events are some of the things people have particularly missed during the pandemic.

“Physical activity has positive psychological benefits. So you get that psychological advantage and you also get a social advantage,” said Edson Filho, who teaches sport and exercise psychology at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.

Carl Bonvini of Dedham, an avid cyclist, traveled to a four-day cycling event through the South Carolina low country called FestiVelo.

“Going to an event where I didn’t know anyone rejuvenated my love for the outdoors after almost two years that we missed it,” Bonvini said.

“I found myself wanting this cycling community,” Bonvini said. “The beautiful thing about the cycling community is that it only takes eight kilometers and everyone’s best friends. Everyone was excited to talk to people again. given hope that there is still life out there beyond the boundaries of the bubble.

Jay and Tricia Feenan of Jackson, NH boarded a plane for the first time since the pandemic began when they flew to Disney World so he and their son could run over the weekend of marathon. For them, the weekend is a family affair – something they’ve done eight times before, but was cut short last year when it went virtual.

They expect to see more people doing this, the Feenans said in sunny Florida after retrieving their race numbers at the lively riders’ exhibition. “People who wouldn’t normally do things outdoors are doing a lot more things outdoors,” Jay Feenan said.

Organizers say this is also helping to fuel the increased interest in destination competitions.

“A lot of people started running during the pandemic. It was something they could go out and do after they had to give up, say, their gym membership,” said Christine Bowen, vice president of programming, operations and partnerships at Running USA. “Now they are looking to travel and combine those opportunities.”

After all, seeing the world is different on a run or a ride than on a triathlon, said Salem Stanley, founder and CEO of Vacation Races, which organizes running and cycling events. in national parks. Stanley quotes author and conservationist Edward Abbey, who said, “A man on foot, on horseback, or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more over a mile than the motorized tourist can over 100 miles.”

Holiday shopping saw an increase in business last year and advance reservations are up for this year, Stanley said.

“There’s something about athletics that thrives on trauma,” he said. “It’s a way to disconnect – almost a form of meditation – with a sense of accomplishment.”

For some travelers in places like national parks, he said, “Running becomes the catalyst. They have a week-long trip centered around the race.

It’s also financially important for athlete destinations, which has become very evident over the past couple of years. A new endurance sports coalition, combining organizers of running and triathlon, obstacle courses and others, has formed to push for streamlined permits and approvals to resume.

Linda Hanson, director of finance and operations for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., had a booth at the Disney Runners Expo to draw people to this classic race, which was canceled in 2020 but resumed last year.

“We’re showcasing our race to people who might not consider Lake Superior as a race destination,” Hanson said, showing video of the race looping on a flat screen behind her. “The community wraps its arms around everyone who comes to town.”

At RAGBRAI too, “what we’ve lost in 2020 is human connection – face-to-face human connection,” spokeswoman Anne Lawrie said.

When racing resumed last summer, even in a reduced form, she said, many runners were first-timers.

“It was a bucket list item and now they were just going to do it,” Lawrie said. “And it’s only growing. People are so excited to be there again, and together.


Jon Marcus can be reached at [email protected]

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