The Gen-Z Running Rebrand: Rediscovering The Joy Of Movement
For years, body-sculpting workouts have dominated women’s fitness. The trend for strength training started over a decade ago with the arrival of #StrongNotSkinny Instagram ‘fitspo’ encouraging women to be physically powerful. But recently, there’s been a shift – and running is back in favour.
Women under 25 are the fastest growing community on exercise tracking app Strava – more likely to be recording runs than anything else. Online, Savannah Sachdev has grown a 180,000-strong following on Instagram for showcasing her impressive daily run streak, almost 900 days (and counting). Dr Hazel Wallace, AKA The Food Medic – a nutritionist with over 600,000 Instagram followers – ran the New York Marathon in November 2023 after taking up to running “on a whim” a year earlier. And Lululemon signed 10 influential runners – including PT Kayla Jeter and Camille Herron, who set a world record for running more than 435km in a 48-hour period – to its Further campaign, showcasing how women excel in endurance sports.
Of course, it’s not a new trend – the 1970s running boom saw recreational jogging go mainstream. But this latest shift seems different, fuelled by young women rejecting the pseudo-empowerment of the ‘strong not skinny’ movement, which is in reality, dominated by aesthetics.
Although running was traditionally associated with weight loss, the Gen-Z rebrand positions it as much more than cardio: it’s a powerful act of moving forward and a not-so-subtle metaphor for joy and freedom. In fact, the mental and physical challenge of running long distances is attracting women in increasing numbers at ultra-marathon start lines: 64% more since 2000.
But – as with so many women’s freedoms – there’s a catch. This Girl Can, a UK campaign to get more women into physical activity, shows 46% of us change our outdoor fitness routine as a direct result of the darker months. The increased fear of sexual harassment and intimidation – felt by 60% of women runners – leads many to self-impose a ‘curfew’.
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Now runners are finding power in numbers. In central London, Friday Night Lights is a running club that positions itself as a ‘night out’, with groups pounding the pavements to booming music and colourful flares over 5km and 10km routes. And East London’s weekly Walk, Run, Do What You Want highlights how much more inclusive this latest movement is, with three staggered waves meaning almost everyone can take part, regardless of ability.
“People just want connection,” says club founder Esmée Gummer. “I heard so many stories from people who had gone to clubs for ‘all speeds’ but were made to feel left out and not good enough. Everything I do is with the intention to make every single person feel like they belong.”
Established in summer 2023 and now attracting 70 weekly attendees, maintaining her group into the darker evenings is important to Gummer. Being part of the sea of mostly female runners swarming the streets feels like a protest – defying the ‘curfew’ with other women who want to feel just as free. “When I run alone at night, I spend the whole time sprinting to get it done and not enjoying it,” says Gummer. “It takes away the fun. Being with other people gives you so much more confidence – you can chat, relax and feel competent. It brings you back to the joy of running.”
Unfortunately, there are still safety steps those in Gummer’s community feel they have to take. “I encourage people to check in on WhatsApp when they get home,” she says. “And, until we live in a world where women and girls are safe, I am keen to encourage male-identifying people who feel comfortable running in the dark to act as ‘chaperuns’. If you are someone who doesn’t feel like being out at night is a problem, use that. Support other people,” she says.
Of course, never being alone is not the cure to broader societal problems of violence against women and girls. But running groups can harness the psychological power of taking up space, moving forwards and embracing the joy of running – all year round.
5 Steps To Taking Up Running – Whatever Your Fitness Level
- Measure Up – Go for a gait analysis – use the services on offer in stores such as New Balance, Nike or Runners Need – to measure your pronation (how much your foot rolls) and the level of support you need.
- Fit Your Bra – Your boobs can move 10cm with every stride, according to research, while wearing the correct sports bra can increase running performance by up to 7%. Get fitted properly, then choose a sports bra where you can fit two fingers beneath the underband and shoulder straps. Try the Adidas TLRD Impact Training Bra, or for cup sizes G and above, try Freya.
- Run To The Beat – On Spotify, you can find playlists with specific beats per minute, ranging from 140-190 BPM. Finding a beat close to your own foot strike means you can run in time with the track for a more comfortable pace. Beginners and long-distance runners should opt for a slower BPM, while sprint sessions benefit from faster beats.
- Get Appy – Runna will get you started with a workout schedule to help you reach your goals. For those wanting connection, try Strava.
- Meet Your Running Group – These Girls Run, an all-women running collective, is now in nine UK cities; Front Runners NY is a club for LGBTQIA+ runners and allies in New York City; and Strava, Facebook and Instagram remain great places to find local groups all over the world.