Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Future of road races in the USA?..and here?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Future of road races in the USA?..and here?

Just how different is the road race scene in the USA? Is the predicted future there going to be the same on this side of the water?

The road race scene in the US in terms of numbers attending seems to be in a very healthy state. In 2010, there were some 22,800 races with some 13 million finishers, an increase of roughly 50% on a decade earlier. Out of that 13 million, some 6.9 million were women! In other words, women represent 53% of the total amount. As to why women make up the majority, Don Kardong, race director of the Bloomsday 12K, the second-largest road race in the US last year with 50,721 participants, believes that women who run for fitness are driving the ever-escalating race-finisher numbers. "Because women are much more conscious of their appearance, they run more to control weight and get fit," Kardong says. Men run for similar reasons, but let's face it, the societal pressure on women to stay slim is far greater. Kardong predicts that women will also take the lead in competitive racing in coming years. Men on the other hand channel their competitive instincts through other sports.

As for which events will be popular, it's predicted that the interest in Marathons will level off. Phil Stewart, publisher of Road Race Management says that ten years from now, average marathon finish times will fluctuate only slightly from the current median finish times of 4:16 for men and 4:42 for women. The only potential backlash against the 7-and 8-hour finishers, says Stewart, will come from race organizers, who'll refuse to swallow the costs of keeping their courses open for only a handful of back-of-the-packers.

The number of Half-Marathons however are predicted to grow. In terms of achievement, Stewart believes that the half marathon has become what the marathon used to be. Stewart also believes that, in the coming years, marathon mania will quiet down a touch. He says, "The marathon is the one soft spot in road racing. Everything through the half will continue to grow, but the marathon may level off." Why? Because more and more racers will opt for the half marathon distance instead. As Stewart explains, "The half marathon has become the badge that the marathon used to be." Some predict that the half will capture that perfect balance--more challenging than a 5K, but without all the sacrifice a marathon entails. Race distances close to the half--15K, 10 miles, 20K are likely to become more popular as well.

In financial terms, running has replaced golf as the premier athletic fundraiser. Road races are raising money and awareness about everything from diabetes to disaster relief. The appeal of using road races as a means of generating revenue has drawn a lot of charities into organising their own events. Some are clearly in out of their depth and as the numbers increase, the badly organised ones are likely to go out of business.

While the numbers at races has grown, the quality at the fast end of the field has declined. US Television commentator Toni Reavis said..."The sport of running is in real danger because at the moment, "the charity/fun-run/parade aspect of events dominates. We're at the top and the bottom simultaneously. We're on top from an activity standpoint--race fields are bigger than ever. But the sport is not doing well. We need to use the masses to help develop the sport, re-engage the back of the pack with the front of the pack,".

So how does that compare to here? Certainly the growth in numbers has been equally impressive if not more so. The gender balance here in Ireland at least is different in that as far as I know, roughly 33% of the current race fields are women as opposed to 53% in the US. Perhaps in time, that will head towards 50%? Some of the other features of races in the US as outlined above are already prevelant here. The increase in the number of Half-Marathons.........more charities organising races to raise funds.......the drop in standards at the front end of the races while the numbers grow at the back.

So what of the future? What will it be like here in 10 years time? Gender balance? Will there be too many races? Will some go out of business? Leave a comment by clicking on the link below...

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