Running Participation Begins Decline in 2015

Since 1990, running participation in the half marathon has been setting a blistering pace for growth, rising from 303,000 finishers in 1990 to 2,046,600 finishers in 2014. This decade and a half period meant exciting times for the sport of running, but have to good times come to an end?

The End of an Era?

According to a recent report issued by USA Running, for the first time in recent history, the number of half marathon finishers has fallen. The report, released on May 25, 2016, indicates, “Following similar trends other race distances, the half marathon distance experienced a net loss of 3% year-over-year”.

If you’ve been following running closely for a few years, you know that 2014 was a land mark year for running: more than 2,000,000 people finished a half marathon in the United States- the only time that has happened in history. In fact, 2014 happens to be the year that I personally made the leap to “distance” running and completed my fist half marathon: the Aramco Houston Half Marathon.

The strong growth in running over the past few years can be traced to several factors including rising participation by women, growing popularity of non-traditional races, and increasing participation in “family events”.

The Nike Women's race Series has lead the way for running participation among women.
The Nike Women’s Race Series has lead the way for running participation among women.

Thanks to the Ladies

In 1990, women made up approximately 25% of all United States running race finishers. The demographic changed very rapidly over the following decades as women grew to become 57% of running race finishers (in 2013). Much of this growth can be attributed to the innovation of female-only races such as the Nike Women’s Race Series.

This growing demographic is evident when you look across other areas of the running industry. Anywhere you around running you will see races, accessories, apparel, and blogs targeted specifically at the ladies.

The Non-Traditional Races See increases in Running Participation

Non-traditional races, such as “mud runs”, “obstacle” runs, paint runs, and other creative twist races made up a significant percentage of the growth observed leading up to 2014. During the second running boom, the non-traditional races frequently demonstrated double-digit growth races (10%+) with some races showing a 30% year-over-year growth.

Running participation has rapidly grown for families.
Photo courtesy of

A Growing Family Loves to Run

Similar to non-traditional races, family and holiday oriented runs have also grown in popularity over the recent years with races popping up to celebrate Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter, and even St. Patrick’s Day. Throughout the year, these as some of the most popular events on our World Race Calendar.

Not All Bad Running Participation Statistics…

Though every major distance saw a decline in participation with the marathon and 5k decreasing by 8%, this does not necessarily mean disaster for running. Despite a decrease in finishers, the total number of races held in the USA increased by 2,300. This shows that running still has a strong community of leaders, organizers and directors who are eager to get out there, find sponsors, map routes, and bring runners together to participate the sport we love so much. Several of the largest races in the United States actually saw an increase in participation of over 1,000 runners.

Adapting to a New Levels of Running Participation in the Running Industry

With the release of this news from USA Running, 2016 will certainly be a critical year to tell us about the state of running in the years to come. We have signs that running participation could continue to decline in 2016, but there is hope that the Olympics could bring put running back on the growth trajectory of 1990-2014.

For those involved in the running industry, Run Infinity has a few recommendations to ensure you make the most of the slowing growth in running:

  • Utilize a wide variety of methods to promote your races, products, and other running endeavors such as the Run Infinity Calendar, social media, and email marketing.
  • Consider new running demographics in your marketing materials. Many events in the past have primarily targeted women. Expect women to continue to make up a majority of race participants.
  • Expect declines in non-traditional running events: obstacle runs, mud runs, paint runs, etc.

Moving forward, what are your thoughts? Have you noticed or felt a decline in running participation? Have your behaviors changed toward running. Are you running in fewer races each year or noticing a declining participation in your races?

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