Is the Running Boom Over?

If you became a runner in the last 25 years, you joined a sport with a hyperbolic rise in popularity. So much growth across the running industry has led to advances in gear, scientific study, number of events, and diversity of participants.

In the recent study and report 2016 State of the Sport — US Road Race Trends, the United States experienced almost 4 times the number of participants in running road races until 2013. The percentage of women competing in these events rose from 25% of the field in 1990 to over 57% in 2013 and every year since.

In order to accommodate this increased interest in running, the number of races offered nationwide rose to over 30,000 races in 2013, with an increased occurrence in women’s specific or themed events.

The industry has seen a slight decline since 2013, and events like Obstacle Course Races saw the biggest hit in registration numbers. From 2014 to 2015, 2,300 more races were added nationwide, but the number of participants in each race distance declined.

Here are a few of the stats I found interesting:

  • Half of the finishers in this running boom fall between the ages of 25-44.
  • Women account for 57% of all finishers
  • In 2010, women took over as the majority demographic.
  • The number of female finishers increase by 6 times between 1990 and 2013.

So why was there such a dramatic uptick in female runners and triathletes? Early in the 21st century, women’s specific events were introduced, including Susan G Komen Race for the Cure and the Danskin Women’s Triathlon Series. These events inspired women to take their fitness into their own hands in a non-competitive, supportive environment. Nothing against the guys, but women felt the need to feel comfortable when trying something so new and challenging. By making these events for women only, they could enjoy the experience as they entered into these endurance sports.

Race for the Cure offered a charitable cause that affects many of us and the added benefit of fitness for hundreds of thousands of women gave us a place to start that fitness journey. While men are encouraged to participate, a vast majority of the field is female.

The Danskin Women’s Triathlon, then later IronGirl inspired women to give multi-sport races a go. Co-ed triathlons can be challenging and intimidating for the novice female athlete, so Ironman Champion Sally Edwards helped create the Danskin Series. Although this series no longer exists, 250,000 women crossed the finish line at 130 events nationwide.

Women have found their sweet spot in the half-marathon, and this shows in the greater number of women to men in the 13.1. Men still dominate the marathon in numbers.

While the running boom may be on the decline in recent years, I do not believe this is the end of running. Race organizers and participants will re-adjust to the changing landscape, and we will continue running for the love of the sport.

But what do you think about the decline of running? Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for stopping by!

Heather Jergensen

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