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A Year in Sports Report: The Return of Running Events

Just like its predecessor, 2021 probably wasn’t what we were hoping for. Lockdowns and restrictions continued to disrupt our lives, but hard times couldn’t deter us from exercise and sports. More than ever, we found time for running, cycling, walking, and focusing on physical activity and our health.

For runners particularly, the highlight of the year was the return of major running events during the latter part of the year. Once again, we saw thousands of runners take the streets of cities across the world with grit and determination to race and compete, achieving goals that have long been postponed.

As the year draws to a close, we look back at how we trained in 2021. What were the most popular sports? How did the return of running events impact our running habits? Did we run longer?

At Polar, our fabulous research team dug into anonymized data from millions of running workouts across the world to draw some interesting insights on what we did in 2021. Let’s dive into what they found out.  

running IS everyone’s favorite

Unsurprisingly, running is the most popular sport one more year. After all, running is a simple sport, requiring just a little desire. The absence of races for the most part of the year made running and training different in 2021 but didn’t stop runners from lacing up their shoes and logging more miles  – and achieving some impressive goals in the latter part of the year. 

When it comes to other sports and activities, 2021 continued the trend set in 2020 and open-air pursuits such as hiking, mountain biking, and walking took more of our time.

Here’s how our collective training stacked up during 2021.

return running events

BUT Walking IS A Popular Choice, too

“If you can’t run, then walk,” they say. For many, walking was the best way to endure another year of pandemic disruptions. The pandemic has moved people to focus on their personal health and wellbeing, so it’s not a surprise that we’re seeing walking making a major comeback across all age groups.

In 2021, walking workouts were on the rise, up 18.87% compared to 2021 and 71.95% compared to 2020.

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Walking workouts are up 18.87%

compared to 2020.

We ran a little bit longer

Despite the lack of races during the first half of the year, runners showed up. In 2021, the average running workout was a bit longer (51:20 minutes compared to 50:48 minutes in 2020) and took us slightly further than before (7.69km compared to 7.58 in 2020). 


7.69 KM


As you know, running is a form of exercise that consumes a lot of calories. Data tells us that, on average, each running session burned 549 calories. (Hint: here’s what to eat when working out to fuel like a pro and here are the foods runners should avoid.)

We returned to serious training

Keeping goals in sight is a major motivating factor for runners. With the return of running events and races in the fall, runners took up on serious training again and prepared to crush their goals once pinning a race bib was possible again. 

After the summer holiday period, data shows our running sessions were a bit longer.

return running events


Average monthly distance.

sunday fun day

You guessed it: Sunday continues to be the most popular day for running and the day when we do our long runs: the average distance on Sunday increases to 9.22km.

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average running distance on Sundays.

Finally. are you wondering what’s the preferred time of the day for running? That’s right after work, at 6pm.

Most popular time of the day to run

return running events

we ran marathons again

As we learned to cope with the pandemic, the safely return of large events and races seemed possible. With measures like Covid testing and reduced or more spread-out fields, organizers did a huge work to allow major races to return. In September, the Berlin marathon was the first major to take place and several top-tier races, from London to Chicago and New York, followed during a frenetic 10-week period.

Around the world, non-elite runners joined the world’s leading athletes to complete the legendary distance. Due to the return or running events, in 2021, Polar users ran 35.42% more marathons than the previous year, even though the total figure is still behind the total of completed marathons before the pandemic.

Runners across all ages completed the magical 42k. Here are the average marathon times by age and gender.

Women’s Average Marathon Time in 2021

Age groupTime

Men’s Average marathon time in 2021

Age groupTime

One More Thing

Not only did we run a lot of miles this year, but we also listened to lots of great new songs. There’s nothing more motivating than an upbeat playlist.

To end the year on a high note (pun intended), we put together our favorite new tunes released this year. And here they are: 21 Best Running Songs of 2021.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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