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With Running Buddies, a Disrupted College Social Life Gets Back on Track

As COVID shakes up the school year, college freshmen ditch the orientation rager and make connections mile by mile

In normal times, the first few weeks of college are full of events intended to help new students find friends and become comfortable living in a place other than home for the first time. Obviously, coronavirus has thrown all that to hell. So when Alex, an 18-year-old incoming freshman at NYU, wanted to meet new people, he had to get creative.

“I was on the track team in high school; running with people was where I made almost all of my closest friends,” the Virginia native tells me. “And seeing how crucial it is to only socialize outdoors individually or in small groups, I figured the easiest way to find my people would be through running.”

After posting to Reddit, Twitter and other social media platforms where NYU students congregate, Alex says he’s met five people so far, “all of whom have been wonderful to talk to and run with. I’ve already ran with some of them a second time and plan to do so with others.”

Finding a “Running Buddy” isn’t necessarily a novel concept. Lots of runners enjoy the added motivation and socialization that comes with running with another person, and it’s not rare to see people posting on running forums looking for running buddies. But for Alex and other college students desperate to meet new people, it’s proven to be a quarantine-friendly outlet to do so. It’s not 100 percent COVID-proof, but being outside and at a distance mitigates the spread of the virus — certainly more than going to a football game.

Running buddy 🏃🏻 from UofT

Jeff, a 22-year-old who recently moved to Pittsburgh to start grad school at Carnegie Mellon University, immediately went online to find fellow runners when arriving on campus. “Especially when you live alone in a new place, these days it can be really hard to meet new people,” he explains. “And since I’ve always enjoyed having other people to run with, I reached out to the CMU subreddit to see if anyone was up for running with me.”

Running Buddies? from SBU

He does, however, recommend some precautions before hitting the road with a complete stranger. “I don’t think that meeting individuals is terribly unsafe or anything, but at least in the beginning, maybe try and find groups of runners to join,” he advises. “The running community is pretty tight-knit [and] a lot of runners will know other runners, so at least you can feel safe knowing other people have run with that person before.”

Beyond that, he recommends running during the day and in public. It also doesn’t hurt to text or share your location with a friend or relative back home — at least on your first couple runs with someone new.

Running Buddy from UIUC

Within his first couple weeks on campus, Jeff says he’s run with two different people and got added to an existing group chat of runners who like to run together. “I highly recommend finding running buddies on campus; it’s a good way for people to connect without having to worry about spreading the virus,” he says. “And if people are still worried, you can wear a mask while running as well.”

Over at NYU, Alex feels the same way. “I absolutely recommend this to anyone who is struggling with finding socializing opportunities during COVID,” he tells me. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”