Road racing appeal on the wane in US

NEW YORK • About 50,000 runners started the New York City Marathon on Sunday - and they were the lucky ones.

Only 17 per cent of those who had entered a draw that fills a third of the field were selected, and applications for those spots were up about 20 per cent over the year before, according to race organisers.

But not every race is so popular. Road races have hit the wall.

The number of finishers in events in the United States has fallen from a peak of about 19 million in 2013 to just over 17 million in 2016.

High entry fees, a glut of race options and competition from other fitness activities have shrunk the fields at many races.

"It's possible we got too big too fast," said Rich Harshbarger, chief executive of Running USA, an industry group.

Road races saw 300 per cent growth in the number of finishers from 1990-2013, with a concentrated boom from 2008-2013.

  • 2 million

    Fall in number of race finishers in US road events from 2013 to 2016.

Now, as participation recedes, Harshbarger expects some races to fold. Most of running's decline has come in what Running USA labelled the "other" distance - non-traditional events like mud runs and colour runs.

In 2006, the average 5km race cost US$13.50 (S$18.43) according to Road Race Management, an industry publication. Now the average is US$34. In 2006, the average marathon cost US$69.97. That's now US$123.

In a 2017 survey, Running USA found that 20 per cent of runners expected to decrease their race participation. The survey also indicated that six in 10 runners would participate in more races if fees were low.

Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, said she expected the big, marquee races - like marathons in New York City, Boston and Chicago, and 10-mile (16km) races in Washington and Philadelphia - to remain in demand, even if they are expensive.

The New York City Marathon, for example, costs US$295. The Boston Marathon, which will cost US$185 in 2018, has seen increased demand, with 2,000 more runners applying for qualifier spots for next year than did for this year.

"Those races are still selling out, which is a testament that the sport is still strong," Knaack said. "But they can't get any bigger. I think people are still gravitating towards those races because they know they're going to get the bang for their buck."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'Road racing appeal on the wane in US'. Subscribe