Letter from the Prez!-May 2017Posted by Pete Abraham, Strider president
Anyone watching the Strider Half Marathon from Hampton Avenue last weekend would surely have been impressed by the seemingly endless stream of runners heading down the bike path, as nearly 1000 participants began the 13.1 mile trek. Sometimes, don’t you wonder where all these runners come from? Around 65% of this year’s participants were Strider members, compared to about 50% a few years back. This is the same trend we are seeing at most of our events. Why is this important? Well it seems as though the running ‘Boom’ we’ve seen over the past few years may finally be leveling off and having a dedicated base of runners should help the club hold its own in a tightening market.
According to a statistic released by RUNNING USA ( http://www.runningusa.org/ 2017-us-road-race-trends ), the number of road racers in the US has declined from around 19 million a few years ago to about 17 million last year. While 17 million is still substantially more than in previous decades, the number of available races has also skyrocketed in the past few years, dividing that pool of runners a little thinner each year. Marathon numbers have been sliding for the past few years. New York, Boston and Chicago still turn out huge numbers but some of the mid-sized 26.2’s have taken a hit. In our area, Green Bay went from 1570 marathoners in 2014 to 1025 this year. The Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha dropped from 850 to 550 over that same time period, and Madison went from 1275 down to 996 between 2014 and 2016. Fox Cities dropped from 888 in 2014 to 560 last year. The biggest loser in the area was the Milwaukee Running Festival’s “major marathon” which dropped from 929 to 661 between its first and second year. Even our Lakefront Marathon went from 2086 in 2014 to 1905 last year but did manage to retain its ranking in the top 4% of the nations marathons. Some people have hypothesized that the growth of numbers in half marathons has hurt the number of 26.2 runners. but even some 13.1’s have taken a hit. The Summerfest Rock n’ Sole Run which boasted 4200 half marathoners in 2013 recorded only 2189 this year. The four Strider 13.1’s which had shown good growth over the past three or four years took a slight drop to a combined total of 2202 in 2017, down from 2354 last year. RUNNING USA reports the 5K distance was the only one that saw an increase last year.
The big question is: “has the boom peaked?” It’s probably safe to say that all the new races that have come along over the past decade are a result of the increasing number of runners, and not vice versa. The new events are not necessarily creating more runners, although events like “mud runs” and “color runs” have lured new participants. This is not that much different than a lot of other “booms”. Twenty or so years ago you had to make a reservation in advance to play tennis on many courts. Getting a 8:00 a.m. weekend tee time at a golf course was nearly impossible. More tennis courts and golf courses were built by those seeking to take advantage of the trend. As our marathon build-up program run through Greenfield golf course a few weeks back on a sunny Saturday morning the parking lot was mostly empty and it’s rare to see full tennis courts these days.
So what’s the point of all this? Well, if the interest in running has peaked or is declining those events that survive are going to have to offer more bang for the buck. Think about some of the “bigger” events in the area. They spend a bunch of money on advertising, charge $80, $90, $100 or more for a 10K, 13.1 or 26.2, do the event, give you a coupon so you can stand in a long line to get your one free beer and then say bye, see you next year.
What’s different about the Striders? We are here for you, year round! Making a profit is not our main objective and we continue to put on some races that actually lose money. We offer year-round activities, track workouts, children’s running programs, the marathon build-up program, Wednesday night fun runs, and it’s all FREE! There were around 4 million runners in 1990 and about 19 million in 2013. Now after three straight years of decline the number is approaching 17 million. If that trend continues some of the race promoters who are in the running industry primarily for profit are likely to bow out. The Striders were here in 1990, we will be here in the future, working for you.
And speaking of the future. It is really inspiring to watch Coach Kelly Corteen mentor the 50 or so enthusiastic young runners in our Kid’s running program! It really does give hope for the future 🙂