Decades after its initial surge in the 1970’s more people than ever are hitting the pavement, trails and treadmills. A review of the surveys and reports on the running industry reinforce what many are calling a second running boom. In 2011, there were a record 14 million road race finishers in the U.S., a 170% increase compared to twenty years earlier. That was the eighth consecutive year that a new U.S. finisher high was set. Get this: Running participation continues to increase year after year at a rate greater than the national population.
At the recent 2013 Running USA Conference, I had the opportunity to present my take on the driving forces behind our sport’s powerful growth. Put simply, Americans are finding that running is an inexpensive, easily-accessed, social activity to help them stay healthy and find their sense of strong—individually and as a community.
According to participation numbers and running shoe sales, the economic downturn is not hurting our running lives. Despite a slow economy, running participation continues to grow: It’s inexpensive, can be done anywhere at anytime, and no gym membership fees are required. A good pair of shoes is all that’s needed. According to Running USA researcher Ryan Lamppa, running “gives you something to control—you can’t control the stock market or the economy, but you can control your health.”
Sense of Belonging
The loneliness of the long distance runner is a thing of the past. Though the Running USA 2013 National Runner Survey reports that 55% of runners prefer to run alone, 33% responded that they’d be more likely to run if they had someone to do it with.
Enter the explosion of running groups and clubs fueled especially by women who value the camaraderie, community and sense of nurturing a group of running friends can offer. Running groups, either organized by your local YMCA or run specialty store, are also a great source to share training information, stay motivated and push yourself a little more than you would running alone.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter also provide a community platform for runners to share their experiences. The Saucony Find Your Strong Project (#FindYourStrong) is a socially-driven initiative that invites runners to share their personal strong story—mental, physical, spiritual and emotional—while connecting with others who share the similar passion of running. This initiative, a collaboration between Saucony and runners, focuses the community around a purpose: that runners want to contribute to and be involved with finding their strong through running.
In a world built for the masses, we all want to feel like an individual. Though today’s races engage thousands of participants, event directors are doing a great job of making every runner who participates feel special.
In the past, the Saturday morning 10K was about the race—how fast and where in the pack you would finish. Today, the start and finish lines have taken a back seat to the amazing amenities surrounding the race, including concerts, food, t-shirts and medals. And let’s not forget the panache factor: Just by completing an event, today’s runner can be a super hero to their family, friends and coworkers.
Women are making a tremendous impact on the sport, now surpassing male participation 56% to 44%, according to the Running USA 2013 National Runner Survey. With more than 7 million female U.S. road race finishers in 2011, women-only events continue to surge. Training programs, both charity and non-charity alike, have also contributed to the growth of women in running. And the convenience factor of running is appealing to women: It’s a quick and efficient workout that allows them to meet the demands of taking care of family, work and home.
Today’s events allow people to be a part of something bigger, especially charity runs. There is no doubt that charitable running has had a huge impact on the sport. Exercising for a good cause continues to grow in popularity and in the sums it raises for charity, according to the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council.
What other forces do you believe are driving the growth of running?