The number of runners registering for organized races in the U.S. was down slightly in 2018, continuing a five-year gradual drawback, according to Running USA’s annual U.S. Running Trends report. On the positive side, traditional distances – including the 5K, 10K, and half marathon – all increased year on year, while non-traditional distances and events drove the decline.

Indeed, participation in Other Distances races declined 12 percent to 4.96 million from 5.55 million. Participation in the category has slowed in recent years after expanding sharply over the last decade with the popularity of fun runs, mud runs, color runs, obstacle races and other more socially-driven running races. Participation in Other Distances races was up only 1.3 percent in 2017, from 5.48 million in 2016.

Encouragingly, participation in 5K, half marathon and marathon all showed some recovery last year while 10K participation further improved versus 2017.

Among the traditional distances:

  • 5K participation inched up 0.6 percent to 8.9 million from 8.84 million in 2017, recovering after declining from 8.94 million participants in 2016.
  • 10K participation increased 11 percent to 1.65 million from 1.46 million. Growth accelerated from the 7 percent gain in participation in 2017.
  • Half marathon participation rose 9 percent to 2.09 million from 1.98 million, also recovering after declining from 2.09 billion participants in 2016.
  • Marathon participation was flattish at 508,000 against 506,000 in 2017. Participation had slid the prior year from 558,000 in 2016.

Overall, the number of people registering for U.S. road races in 2018 compared to the previous year declined 1 percent from 2017 to 18.1 million, according to data compiled by Running USA with the help of a consortium of The Active Network, imAthlete, Race Roster, RunSignUp, Race Entry, Run Reg and many individual events.

The industry peaked in 2013 when 19 million runners crossed the finish line at U.S. running events over all distances after having been steadily rising from only 5 million participants in 1990.

U.S. running registrations in 2017 remained consistent with the total registrants in 2016. In 2017, there were a total of nearly 18.3 million registrants, down just slightly from 18.5 million in 2016.

Another key finding in the new U.S. Running Trends report is that the majority of runners of U.S. road races in 2018 continues to be women, who made up 60 percent of road race participants. Men only participated more than women in the marathon, making up 53 percent of participants.

In other traditional running races, women made up 61 percent of 5K participants, 59 percent of 10K participants and 60 percent of half marathon participants.

Other findings in the report include:

  • The most popular race is by far the 5K, making up 49.1 percent of all registrants in the nation. That was followed by Other Distances, 27.3 percent; half marathon, 11.5 percent; 10K, 9.1 percent; and marathon, 2.8 percent.
  • The ages 25-44 are the sweet spot for participation across all event distances.
  • The average age of participants is 37.
  • By season, 32 percent of participants raced in the spring, just behind 31 percent for the fall. Summer races accounted for 24 percent of participants and winter, 13 percent.

Photo courtesy Brooklyn Half