I often wonder if that’s why the sport of ultrarunning has seen such steady growth over the last decade. An ultramarathon, like other endurance events, is a “controlled adventure” that celebrates time intensely for a day, while simultaneously releasing us from the cacophonic universe of change that we can’t control. A synchronized embrace and release, fortifying both body and soul.
One thing for sure – the growth of running and ultrarunning is a global phenomenon. I’m going to dig into this a bit below as me and my synchroblog pals explore “Then and Now: What’s Changed in Ultrarunning in the 10 Years Since the First Synchroblog”. Be sure to check out what the others are writing as well:
- Andy Jones Wilkins takes a look at handheld bottles vs hydropaks
- Craig Thornley reviews the changes in medical protocols for races
- Sean Meissner ponders the use of GPS
- And Wyatt Hornsby joins us to talk about how the Leadville 100m has changed
Global Growth in Running
The sport of running remains the largest participatory sport in the world. By my estimate, there are ~413 million athletes on the globe that consider themselves runners. The sport has seen a steady growth since the jogging boom of the 70’s, growing 5-8% annually. If you count all the new derivations of running (obstacle races, color runs, etc.), the pace has continued, even though traditional road races have flattened out their growth the last three years. That means it is not out of the question that we could have 1 billion runners on the planet by 2030.
What is driving that growth? Well, if the US market is any indication (the largest in the world, with ~18 million road runners/9 million trail runners), the two main factors are (1) greater participation by women, and (2) an increased desire of younger generations to purchase experience over products, which is driving innovation in different types of runs (obstacle, non-timed, etc). I think a third underlying factor that is likely involved is the growth of social media, which allows race experiences, fundraisers, and new race announcements to be easily shared. The growth of women participating is definitely the biggest factor, and in fact, women are now 57% of all road race finishes. This is largely driven by increased participation in social and charity groups, targeting the 10k and half marathon distances.
|(Chinese marathon mania, photo by Visual China)|
Global Growth in Ultrarunning
|(Growth in North American ultra finishes, courtesy of UR Mag)|
I’m personally excited for future growth in our sport, no matter how it arrives. I think the world is a better place with a million ultrarunners, and bringing their collective power and interest to the needs of nature. It will be fascinating to see what the next decade brings!