Despite Slight Dip in Race Registrations, Running Still a Thriving Sport

The recently released RunningUSA U.S. Road Race Participation survey provides a useful snapshot of numbers that helps give us an idea of the various trends in the sport.

Back in 1972, sports coverage included a piece on Frank Shorter, just after he won gold in the Olympic Marathon in Munich. To date, Shorter remains the only American man to win an Olympic gold medal at that distance. Joan Benoit Samuelson set the bar for American women 12 years later, winning Olympic gold in LA at the marathon.

The TV piece on Shorter talked about him training 20 miles a day and focusing on hill training in the mountains. Millions of folks watched that with awe, and though Shorter didn’t know it at the time, he kicked off the great American running boom. The sport of running has come a long way since then, and here are some of the numbers that show where we’re at.

The recently released RunningUSA U.S. Road Race Participation survey provides a useful snapshot of numbers that helps give us an idea of the various trends in the sport.

While there has been a slight decline in road race participation, it remains high.

  • The number of U.S. road race registrations fell to about 18.3 million in 2017 from 18.5 million in 2016 – a one percent drop.
  • The all-time high was 19 million finishers in 2013
  • Women’s growth in the sport has continued: In 2017, 59 percent of road race finishers were women, up from 57 percent in 2016. (In 1990, only 25 percent of road race finishers were women).
  • Around 59 percent of participants in a given road race are female, while 41 percent are male.
  • Races at the 5K distance boasted 8.84 million registrants—49% of all registrants in the nation—while the half-marathon stayed firmly in second place with approximately 11% of the finishers.

And while the number of overall marathon finishers (around 500,000) has dipped in recent years, let’s not forget some huge highlights in the past 12 months. Shalane Flanagan won the New York Marathon last November—the first win by an American woman at the NYC Marathon in 40 years—and a few months ago in April, Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985.

As Running USA CEO Rich Harshbarger stated, “Americans are still turning out for competitive running events in droves. The 2017 data road race participation data shows us that enthusiasm for the sport is alive and well in the U.S., although race directors know that it is crucial to work on adding incentives to keep their runner base coming back time and again to participate.”

Upcoming races: Wednesday July 4, the Freedom Run Festival 5K and 10K, starting at 8:15 Brushy Creek Lake Trail in Cedar Park. Saturday, July 14 at 6:00 p.m. at Austin High School Track- Back the Track Relays. Sunday, July 15 at 7:00, a.m., Marble Falls Triathlon at Lake Marble Falls.


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