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Dr. J. on Running

State of the Sport

Running Remains Popular

Published Sep 20, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

In the Summer 1999 issue of its quarterly publication "On the Roads", USA Track and Field published its report on the State of the Sport of running. All the indicators showed the running boom continued in this country in 1998.

According to the latest American Sports Data survey, 10.7 million runners ran at least 100 days in 1998. These runners also raced often, accounting for an average growth in race size of 5.6 percent compared to 1997.

The increase in the size of the largest 100 races was dramatic. For the third consecutive year, these races had over one million total finishers, a three-fold increase over 1980. More dramatic was the increase in the number of races over 10,000 finishers, which went from 4 races in 1980 to 47 in 1998.

Upstate New York had three of the largest 100 races in the country. The Buffalo Chase Corporate Challenge, with an estimated 12,000 finishers, ranked 36th. The Utica Boilermaker was the largest 15K in the country, and 53rd overall with 7343 finishers, and the Syracuse Chase Corporate Challenge was the 10th largest corporate challenge race and 70th overall with an estimated 6,100 finishers.

Driven by charity races, the 5K was the most popular distance nationally, with 30 out of the 100 largest races and a 12.7 percent growth rate. The Race for the Cure series, with 86 races in 1998, claimed 18 of these spots. However, this phenomenon was limited to the US, since the largest 100 foreign races had only two 5K races.

The half-marathon showed the next largest growth rate, 8.5 percent, while the number of marathon runners grew by 6 percent. Races in the 12K to 10-mile range grew by about 3.5 percent, while the 8K-10K races shrunk by about 1 percent.

The increased popularity of the 5K race seemed to occur at the expense of the 10K race. In 1998, 14 of the top 100 races were at the 10K distance, down from 40 in 1987. During the same period, 5K races increased from 7 of the top 100 in 1987 to 30 in 1998.

The San Francisco Bay to Breakers 12K was the largest race in the country and in the world, with 53,120 finishers. The Peachtree 10K in Atlanta, GA was second in the US with 51,000 finishers, followed by the Lilac Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, WA with 48,453 and the Bolder Boulder 10K in Boulder, CO with 37,554 finishers.

The New York City Marathon remained the largest marathon in the country and the world with 31,539 finishers. The Honolulu Marathon was second nationally with 22,081, followed by the Chicago Marathon with 17,193, the San Diego Rock 'n Roll Marathon with 15,773 in its first year, and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC with 13,261.

The popularity of the marathon at the traditional distance of 42.2 km dropped dramatically over the next 8 kilometers. In fact, the country's largest 50K ultramarathon, the Sunmart Texas Trail in Huntsville, TX had only 536 finishers. In contrast, South Africa's 87 km Comrades Marathon reported 10,490 finishers.

New York leads the fifty states with 10 of the country's largest 100 races, followed by California with 9. A total of 22 states had races larger than 10,000 finishers. On the other end of the spectrum, the Wyoming Marathon in Cheyenne was the largest verifiable race in Wyoming with only 46 finishers.

Whichever way we analyze the data, all the numbers lead to the same conclusion: running and racing are alive and well on our roads. Contrary to the popular myths that glorify spectator sports, it is indeed more fun to run.

Kamal Jabbour's RUNNING Columns decreased by 4 percent in word count since 1997, while increasing by 8 percent in word length over the same period. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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