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State of the Sport: Part III, U.S. Running Event Growth Trends

Top 100 Running Festivals Top Record 2 Million


As previously announced, we are publishing a further article from the USATF Road Running Information Center with the topic "State of the Sport: Part III, U.S. Running Event Growth Trends. 

Similar trends can be found within the German running scene, at least with regard to growth trends for the half marathon races over the marathon races. The analyses of the RRIC thus are exemplary for the European and German running scenes, as well. We have received permission to publish the article from the author.

Horst Milde

As evidenced by the latest numbers reported by the Road Running Information Center, the biggest road races and fun runs are here to stay. In 2004, more than 2 million people participated in the largest 100 running festivals in the U.S. Official finishers in that group totaled 1,791,000 - up from 1,684,000 in 2003. Ninety-one 2004 festivals had at least 10,000 participants while 194 had 5,000 or more. In 2004, 58.8% of the finishers were timed, up from 43.6% the previous year.

Largest Festival lists

When comparing the 2000 and 2004 Largest Festivals lists, the most striking characteristic is how many events are common to both. Very few events such as the short-lived Washington DC Marathon have disappeared completely.

Others like the Bay to Breakers 12K have moved down a little (from #1 in 2000 with 52,474 finishers to #11 in 2004 with 33,293 finishers) or up a little like Race for the Cure Denver (#3 in 2000 with 47,500 estimated finishers and #1 in 2004 with 50,700 finishers), but generally the same largest races continue to grow and stay on the list. Since 2000, Nike (Run Hit Wonder 5Ks and 10Ks) and Elite Racing (Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach and P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half-Marathon and Marathon) have added the most members to the list.

Good growth rates were not limited to the largest events in 2004. In fact, the same events with fewer than 500 finishers had the highest percent change (7%) of all size categories compared to 2003. The other categories and growth rates were Mega Events (10,000+ finishers) up 5%, Large Events (4,000 to 9,999 finishers) up 5%, Medium Events (1,500 to 3,999 finishers) up 3% and Small Medium Events (500 to 1,499 finishers) up 1%.

As reported in Part II of this series, road races of all standard distances grew in 2004. The chart below summarizes the percent change in finishers for the same events collected by the RRIC and the estimated totals and percent growth for all events of the distance (which take into account new and discontinued events).

Estimated Number of 2004 Finishers in U.S. Events by Distance

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