According to the 2017 Running USA State of the Sport Report, the number of road race finishers has dropped to under 17 million for the first time since 2012. While the number of road race finishers has declined in the U.S., the following three metrics are trending up: race or event quality, the number of women participating, and increased popularity of the 5K distance.
Improved Race Quality
As with any marketing venture, the customer drives the process. Race industry directors and promoters are accommodating runners’ concerns and desires in more ways than ever. 5K finisher numbers have increased this year, while the number of 10K, half marathon and other distances decreased by four percent or more.
In seeking to attract more runners, the industry has also corrected for disorganization and dangerous or functionally unsound races. Running USA CEO Rich Harshbarger relates, “As race directors react to declining participation numbers, what we’re seeing is more of them increase value and create better experiences for their runners, partners, charities, and communities.”
More Women Participating
In 2016, female finishers were counted at 9.7 million nationwide and represent 57% from event fields. (Males in 2016 numbered 7.3 finishers in U.S. races.) Women have outnumbered men every year since 2010.
The 5K Event Reigns
In 2016 the 5K distance event accounted for a total of 56% of U.S. road races. At 17,000 events recorded, that’s a 3% increase from 2015. There was also a sharp decline in obstacle and other themed races.
5Ks are often advertised as a “walk/run” which attracts and allows more participants. Many are also tied to fundraising, attracting entrants, donors, and good will.
People will continue to run. It’s up to the running industry and road race promoters to find out why, what matters to them, and offer the events that appeal to that audience. A really cool race bib can't hurt either 😉.
Image credit: Colorado Marathon, 2016, race bibs by Boulder Bibs