Back in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, when we were all locked down and thinking we could “flatten the curve” and be done with it all in a few months, a couple of friends and I founded what we called the “Socially Distanced Run Club” (SDRC).
The first runs were just the three of us because that’s all that the City of Toronto allowed for outdoor gatherings. We stayed six feet apart when we ran – hence the “socially distanced” in our name.
Those runs were on Sunday mornings, starting at Berczy Park because James S. lived down there and Miguel and I could drive there. I remember running through the virtually deserted streets. We ran down the middle of Dundas St. one morning and there wasn’t a car in sight.
As the City updated it’s rules about lockdown, we adapted our runs. During the second wave, we ran solo and experimented with calling each other on Facetime to trash talk and chit-chat during the run. We played with apps that let us virtually “race” each other over various distances.
As the limits on gathering size were relaxed, we added people by invitation. First going to four or five people, then eventually opening things up even more.
That first summer we helped Baker train for his first marathon which was supposed to be in Ottawa. The race was cancelled, but we made up a route for him around Toronto and paced him over the back 30km of his first 42.2km race finishing up at City Hall.
We did stupid things like the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee which had us running 100km weeks (and more) in an attempt to beat each other across the state of Tennessee (virtually, of course).
Through it all, the reason we ran was always the same. We needed that group gathering to get some much-needed social interaction. Some of us were off work due to the pandemic while others transitioned to work-from-home. Some had an easier time while others had to balance work with home-schooling and other challenges.
One thing was consistent throughout as the pandemic brought it’s many different challenges. That one thing was the SDRC. Every Sunday we’d get together to run for 15-25km. We’d talk about what was happening in our lives, complain about being trapped in our homes with kids or being trapped in our homes alone. We’d bitch about our jobs and commiserate with those that had lost their jobs.
Those Sunday runs were therapy. They helped us maintain our mental health and also our physical health. The fact that it was all men wasn’t intentional, but over time we learned to appreciate that fact. We didn’t set out to exclude female runners, and we eventually invited one into the group who still often runs with us today.
Men don’t often reach out for help with mental health issues and having a strong group of male friends that we could count on and trust was a big part of what the SDRC was about. And it still is.
We have a ton of fun on these Sunday runs between tackling stupid routes (Tour de ______ and the famous 91 turn laneways route) and running too far and too fast for our own good. But through it all, we come out way ahead because getting together with the guys gives us that chance to escape from our usual lives and just get out and run for a couple of hours.