Good morning, friends! ☀️
I stumbled across something interesting earlier this week, this news story about a report from the annual Running USA conference, which gathers together people from across the running industry. The big news was that, unlike past generations, people in the generation Z and younger millennial demographics aren’t participating in marathons, half marathons and other distance races like their older cohorts have.
This, I thought, was a little surprising — but also not, as it confirmed with data something I’ve been hearing anecdotally from you. Here are some of the key points in the story:
“Now that Gen Z is coming of age and millennials are aging, participating in running is threatening to trend downward,” the report states. “The desire for exercise and motivations for being physically and mentally fit are changing drastically.”“The primary fitness goal of the generation is not around health but friends, fun and purpose,” the report says. “They are not as competitive as those preceding them.”The results could be alarming for race organizers because older runners are aging out of the sport while fewer younger runners are taking it up. The percentage of runners in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups has dropped significantly since 2015, while the percentage of race participants in the 25-34 age group grew only slightly.“If the running industry ignores this trend,” the report says, “it is at risk of its future growth.”The first “running boom” of the 1970s, and a second that ran from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, were driven largely by competitive recreational runners. Young people today, if they run at all, are looking for something different from running events, race organizers say. They are seeking social interaction and races with unique themes or causes.“If we have an aging running demographic, and we’re not backfilling it, and we’re not making running look cool, or running and jogging as an outlet for fitness, I think we as a sport have our work cut out for us,” said Cliff Bosley, race director of the Bolder Boulder. “And if it’s not going to be about the competitive part of the sport but it’s going to be the social, how do we make our events as fun as possible, really connecting with that social thing?”
“Now that Gen Z is coming of age and millennials are aging, participating in running is threatening to trend downward,” the report states. “The desire for exercise and motivations for being physically and mentally fit are changing drastically.”
“The primary fitness goal of the generation is not around health but friends, fun and purpose,” the report says. “They are not as competitive as those preceding them.”
The results could be alarming for race organizers because older runners are aging out of the sport while fewer younger runners are taking it up. The percentage of runners in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups has dropped significantly since 2015, while the percentage of race participants in the 25-34 age group grew only slightly.
“If the running industry ignores this trend,” the report says, “it is at risk of its future growth.”
The first “running boom” of the 1970s, and a second that ran from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, were driven largely by competitive recreational runners. Young people today, if they run at all, are looking for something different from running events, race organizers say. They are seeking social interaction and races with unique themes or causes.
“If we have an aging running demographic, and we’re not backfilling it, and we’re not making running look cool, or running and jogging as an outlet for fitness, I think we as a sport have our work cut out for us,” said Cliff Bosley, race director of the Bolder Boulder. “And if it’s not going to be about the competitive part of the sport but it’s going to be the social, how do we make our events as fun as possible, really connecting with that social thing?”
For the record, I don’t think this is necessarily good or bad — the things people are interested in watching, reading, doing, etc. are always in a process of change. This is probably just the natural next step in the evolution of our sport — but I’m just one person, with my own opinion.
What are your thoughts? — Terrell
I've been running for just over 20 years.
I guess I started during the surge of interest in the early 2000's.
After the Boston bombing there was a surge in interest for a year or so and then things seemed to go back to their normal growth pattern.
I've seen plenty of races disappear, some come and go and quite a few new ones pop up.
The demographics for my running club skew 40+ years and 60% female. I think we have more members over 60 than in their 20s.
COVID was really tough on the running community and I think it will be a few years before we see things stabilize and possibly grow.
With the heightened concern about mental and physical health, you would think that running would be growing. Even if you just run a few miles by yourself after work a few times a week, you're going to feel better.
And if you are seeking social interaction, running clubs and races are the places to be.
Oh. Funny I’m reading this today, when I decided to enter a race 😅 I’m a millennial, I used to enter races in the past, then I stopped because of depression and Covid. Now I’d like to go back doing it as a goal for my training (so I won’t get lazy).
I wonder if it’s because of the high prices and not many benefits. When I used to run in Ireland, I got t-shirts and little gifts in my goodie bags. And the atmosphere was amazing, you were really a part of a big cheering community. In other countries you just get your bib number and off you go. Unless it’s something fun like a Rock n Roll, most races are pretty expensive and boring.
Speaking for an older runner, 75, I have seen the sport of racing go from decent entry fees and trophies, shirts, plaques to ultra high entry fees and very minimal awards for placing in top three, some races now only have overall awards. I have been racing for 35 years and still do when I can find one with acceptable entry fee. The sport has become big business , money makers and this has hurt in many ways. Running has been my way of life for many years and I feel blessed to be able to do this!
I used to think running & training with a group would be fun. Of the group of eight that started, 50% never showed up, and we ran to match the slowest person's cadence. I finally stopped and ran by myself. Some days I was fast, and other times, I went out to "just enjoy running.
I hated covid when everything shut down. I even saw people jogging by themselves with masks on. I LOVE to race. It not only is fun to see what I can do, but it teaches a person how far they've come. Can you reel in the person in from of you? D? Do you have anything left in the tank for that last 200 yards? You can run fast on your own, but you can't really know what you can do unless you're pushed. And pushed hard... and if you're successful and medal, that smile will won't leave your face for quite a while....
I agree with a most of what I've read here. I started running 7 years ago when I was 46. When I was in my 20s, I was more into bicycling. These things go through cycles. Not everything has to keep growing. Races can scale back if demand wanes, or maybe they can find a way to be priced more reasonably. I have a few destination runs in mind, but otherwise it's going to be small, local races.
I also run for the fitness and enjoyment. If I compete, it's with myself to push myself to train hard. I will be slower than some and faster than others -- who cares? The social aspect is one of my favorite aspects of any run.
Alas, no parkruns near Asheville, NC. :(
I have not been getting proper notifications so I am late to the party on this. I am not sure I personally have seen this “trend.” One of my millennial sons is who got me back into running in 2015. I have run about 12 races since then and I see lots of younger runners there. But I have only done local races within 50 miles of where I live. Maybe it is different in other places.
I feel like it is up to me to encourage younger runners. I try to do this by running races, talking about running, and even posting on social media. My 1/2 in March is for the American Heart Associations benefit and so I have been doing a little fundraising for that.
It is also interesting to me that a conversation similar to this is going on at work and where my wife works. The conversation is 1 about work culture and 2 about hiring and retention. Why is this similar? Because it involves us doing our part to show others what can be done, what needs to be done and how to do it.
So to me, I desire to increase my efforts to show others how much fun and beneficial running is and how it can help our long term desires in the area of good health. A race seems like an insurmountable event for so many. But at my age and with my physical challenges, I think I can show them that it is possible for so many others as well.
I started running at the age of 39, and most of friends who are runners also began running around the age of 40.
I think many of us reach middle age and become motivated to improve our health. The phrase, "use it or lose it" comes to mind. If one does not begin an exercise regimen of some sort by the time one has reached middle age, individuals will continue to lose health and fitness as they age. As a nurse case manager, I spend most of my day working with people in their mid 50's who are completely debilitated by back pain and chronic health conditions, like diabetes. They complain that they spend their entire day, most days going to doctor's appointment, physical therapy, etc... They never prioritized their health, and health rapidly deteriorates in one's fifties if one follows this path. Many of us follow a different path, and begin running and training before poor health sets in.
In addition to the realization in middle age that one needs to regularly exercise, most of us have children that are older. Babies and toddlers can be so limiting in a parent's free time. Middle age allows freedom to pursue hobbies we often didn't have time for previously.
So, I think it might just be part of the natural cycle of life, that many serious runners are older. We have the time and motivation to pursue racing. We also have a little more flexible spending money for race entries
Better read fast! More and more books coming out. . . I have to pick the creme de la creme!
I suppose you saw this. . . Another book to read.
I went out to see the daffodils yesterday. . . a good walk of about 2 miles;totally worth it. Pussy willows, catkins and wild roses are coming out. I took pictures. Keeps my chronological record of the seasons. Heck, I would not have known it was daffodil season had it not been for my photos on the phone! Anyway, beautiful day. 46 degrees I couldn't complain.
Lots of time to think on the discussion you posed. In my opinion, which may or may not count, Running events are much like the ocean which ebbs and flows with low and high waves. Right now it is going toward a low--who knows when the next high wave will come along? It has before, it will be back.
As for generations, I didn't even know they had names until I my second time around in college when I was in my early 60s. Now, the different age groups are very emphatic about it. . I live with my daughter who is a "millennial" but I'm 40 years older. They are certainly different. They love the next big wonderful thing and are VERY social with certain groups. Funny thing is , they think it's so cool when something " retro" is released, yet the item was common, everyday when I was their age. Yesterday, my daughter came in and told me that a "new"computer game had been released. It was old, yet it was capable of being used on her computer. (I don't know if she remembered, but she played the same game for hours when she was 16!) She is going on 36 now.
I see running going the same way. It is an free, enjoyable exercise, it will be rediscovered by each generation, events will happen--small or large. No need for the planners to worry (they are in it for the money). Time will take care of it all.
I'm a Gen Zer who's a pretty big runner (I ran varsity and jv xc in college), but like this post was kinda saying I'm more interested in it for health and enjoyment than competition. I think a lot of young people who run in high school and college get burnt out because it tends to be so competitive. (At least, that's what happened to me.) Marathons and half marathons tend to be expensive as well, which is partly why I usually do 5ks instead.
Remember the Zombieland survival rule number 1 “ Cardio “
I have witnessed this process through the huge increase in parkrun. While not large in the US, parkrun has grown substantially in my country ( Australia ) and places like South Africa and the UK. Parkrun is deliberately focused on participation and actively down grades competition. This seems to be pulling a new generation of people who have no interest in marathons.
Why run when you can watch a video of running on your telephone? It’s not just running they’re not interested in; it’s the entire physical world.
As a Gen Z person, I've definitely noticed that there aren't many people my age who run half marathons. I usually go for runs on my own, but I have a lot more fun (and I feel more motivated to run for a longer time without stopping to walk) when I'm with friends. Those huge racing events are definitely expensive, but they were great in their own way - I got to see so many other people like me, even if they were like 20-30 years older.
The last time I did an actual half marathon was Rock'n'Roll San Jose in 2019. I get that these events require a lot of money - paying for the bands, food, various aid teams, and everything else relating to the logistics of these races. That being said, all I was really there for was the run, the music, and maybe a bit of food afterwards. There's no reason for me to pay for things I won't be using.
I disagree with the second-to-last paragraph in the article; I think the 1970s and late '90s booms were sparked as much by hobby joggers and Oprah running a marathon as by competitive runners. I don't think it's a bad thing that participation in organized races is leveling off because many of the marquee events have become so huge and expensive. I think there's room and desire to grow smaller hometown events; also, while road racing may be tapering off, trail running/racing continues to grow.
As a younger millennial runner, I have a couple thoughts:
First off, races are expensive, which could make it less appealing to younger demographics. Personally, I'm unwilling to shell out lots of money to race when I can just run for free, unless I have other friends racing with me, unless this race is a personal goal of mine I want to accomplish (like a marathon), or unless the proceeds go towards a charitable cause.
Second off, with the pandemic, people have fewer social connections. As a result younger demographics may want to do more social sports. At the same time since the pandemic gave us more alone time, I will say it has increased my love for running.
Hopefully this downward trend of running for younger demographics doesn't mean a downward trend of exercise overall! As much as I love running, it's ok if it's not everyone's cup of tea especially since it's not the most social sport. I don't think it's a bad thing if people are just turning to other forms of exercise, but it's bad if it's indicative of less exercise overall
I’m at the ‘young’ end of the boomer range but I am tired of ugly routes and high entry fees (and extra ‘convenience charges’!) that pay for an after-race ‘party’ with meh food, nowhere to sit and eat it, and loud music that precludes actual social interaction. And getting up at 4 am so I can drive to the venue, hopefully find a parking spot not too far away, and then stand in line at a port-a-potty. Parkrun is free and nearby, the people are nice, and many go to breakfast together afterward. Less $, nicer experience, ultimate flexibility.
The ultra community also has more of the social feel -- lots of hanging out by tents the night before the race, leisurely chats at the aid stations, faster runners slowing just to have a conversation with someone on the trail, etc. A lot of the ultras near me have 1ks, 5ks and other doable distances along with their looping 100ks, so spouses/kids of the crazy people (heh) can have some fun and then hang out near start/finish to chat with other spouses/families and cheer on flagging runners. And running slow is totally ok; gotta love a race where it’s socially acceptable to walk up a hill (or anywhere else if you’re whupped)!! Plus, amazing snacks at the aid stations! And, beautiful, soothing scenery rather than another out-and-back ‘race’ through a gray metallic industrial zone at 6 am on a Sunday.
I've noticed a trend that races emphasize fun, nature and views. Some even forgo the bling for lower admission fees. I hate to throw the word in but Covid really upset momentum for a lot of things that we used to do very regularly... like going to movies for instance. Whether events get the traffic back that they used to have I guess, in my opinion will take time, and may just not happen. However, my 22 year old son just told me last month he wants to do the Bolder Boulder with me this year. And he has never expressed any interest at all in joining me in running. My 18 year old daughter also has signed up for her first smaller race earlier in May. So there's hope. :)
I am registered to run my first half marathon in less than two weeks, the DisneyWorld Princess Half, and I am not doing it to "race". I don't need to win, and I haven't even been training for speed, just endurance. I think we should celebrate the act of completing something hard that we worked toward. I don't mind the "winners" getting special recognition, but overall, it's about building up yourself and sometimes building a community around you.
Every one of the comments so far has said something that resonates with me. In the 15 years I have been running in organized events, I can't really think of time I was "racing"--except beating Santa Claus in the Holiday Hustles over the years.
The endurance community has proven over and over that it is adaptive, supportive and inclusive. So many companies are organizing destination runs designed to foster an appreciation of nature, travel, the list goes on. Racing may wax and wane and there will always be room for the competitive spirit. Likewise, there will always be room for the cooperation, support and joy that is present at so many events.
If the data noted are predictive trends, I am hopeful that the “sport” of running will need to evolve to encourage the more purpose driven values of the younger generation. If “racing events” are to remain relevant then there may be a great opportunity for the running industry to make a more meaningful contribution to the “Great Human Race” other than creating material products. Perhaps to capture the “spirit” of the upcoming generation, it will have to create events that tell a new story and shift the human narrative from “Great Alone to Better Together “. The loneliness of the long distance runner meets the aspirations of the community. That synergy, in my opinion, is long overdue. And that “shift” will require participation by “all of us”!
I run because I love it, I compete for the sense of achievement.
I guess fewer people are running & competing now because of the amount of other things there are available vs the 1970's & even the 90's. The internet, podcasts, blogs, countless streaming services, people have so many options to fill their days. Maybe committing the time & energy to running just isn't one of them anymore? I wonder if this is also a trend across other sports? Are less people taking part competitively in baseball, hockey, basketball etc.? Maybe the overall number has risen as the population is higher, but what about the % of people participating vs the overall number that are capable?
Glad I found running though. Life would be much tougher without it.
Caitlin has a great point (although I do love racing more than running myself)!
The running industry conflates running with racing. But we the community shouldn't :) I've run thousands of miles solo the past few years but haven't raced since 2007. Our sport is more than events... love the fact you can do it solo at any time with so little gear or framework.
Regarding the aging running demographics, I do think the sport is missing an opportunity to promote if not prioritize training plans for older runners--runners whose volume may have to be lower and whose rest days may have to be more.