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Long Distance Running - State of the Sport

Running in America remains steady and strong; business sees upside

Americans continue to run regularly, to run consistently, and to do so in large numbers, according to data received by USA Track & Field. Nearly 10.5 million Americans ran 100 days or more in 2002, while more than 11 million runners have been in the sport for 10 or more years. Meanwhile, the running shoe industry continues to gain strength and market share.

Each the USATF Road Running Information Center reports on the large number of runners that have been estimated by American Sports Data, Inc (35,866,000 U.S. residents 6 years or older running once in 2002) and the National Sporting Goods Association (24,700,000 U.S. residents 7 years or older running six or more times). Evidence of running's staying power is the American Sports Data (ASD) estimate that 11,161,000 runners have been in the sport for 10 or more years.

Another snapshot of the running population comes from the core group of 10,485,000 "frequent runners" who ran at least 100 days in 2002 (from ASD's Superstudy of Sports Participation). This group was comprised of 44.6% women and the average age (mean) was 28.9 years. The mean age has hovered around 28 and 29 since American Sports Data began including that stat in 1997.

The National Sporting Goods (NSGA) "frequent runners" who run at least 110 days a year, were 44.2% female in 2002 and were older (male mean is 34, female mean is 32.3) than their ASD counterparts. The road race population tracked by the USATF Road Running Information Center is older still (average age of 37 - male mean of 38.6 and female mean of 35.4) and the male/female ratio is approximately 50/50. More details about that growing market will be presented in Part II of this report.

Where are the strongest running markets? American Sports Data provides statistics on sports participation in all states and metropolitan statistical areas (MSA)s in the U.S. Listed below are the top 5 by overall runner numbers and the top 5 with the highest per capita numbers.

Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) with Most Runners (2000-2002)

Metropolitan Area Total Population*
(April 2000)
Total Runners
('00-'02 ave.)
Runners Per Capita*
('00-'02 ave.)
1 N.Y./N.J./Pa. 21,199,865 2,162,000 13.4
2 L.A./Riverside/Orange County 16,373,645 1,912,000 15.4
3 Washington D.C./Baltimore 7,608,070 1,027,000 10.9
4 San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose 7,039,362 983,000 13.8
5 Chicago/Gary/Lake County 9,157,540 942,000 13.7

MSAs with Most Runners Per Capita (2000-2002)

Metropolitan Area Total Population*
(April 2000)
Total Runners
('00-'02 ave.)
Runners Per Capita*
('00-'02 ave.)
1 San Antonio 1,592,383 408,000 24.1
2 Indianapolis 1,607,486 242,000 21.8
3 Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Newport News 1,569,541 354,000 21.3
4 Milwaukee/Racine 1,689,572 370,000 18.8
5 Minneapolis/St. Paul 2,968,806 524,000 16.9

*Note that Per Capita = number of participants out of 100 from the ASD study total which does not include children under age 7 and is an average over 3 years, whereas the Total Population figure does include all ages and is for April of 2000. [Source: 2002 Superstudy of Sports Participation, American Sports Data, Inc., Hartsdale, N.Y. 10530; web site:]

To obtain information on sports demographic products and services offered by American Sports Data contact: Harvey Lauer at American Sports Data, Inc., 234 N. Central Avenue, Hartsdale, N.Y. 10530 or go to

Running Shoe Industry also Exhibits Stability and Strength

According to a press release from SGMA International, "athletic footwear sales rose 2.5% in 2002. Total sales were $9.34 billion, compared with $9.11 billion in 2001. Three athletic footwear categories exceeded the billion dollar mark - running/jogging ($2.71 billion); basketball ($1.95 billion) and cross-training/fitness ($1.20 billion)." [source: 2003 Recreation Market Report, Figures are U.S. wholesale shipment values, not retail sales.]

The NSGA "Sporting Goods Market in 2003" study reports steady growth for running shoes. In 2002, the report estimates that 34 million units of jogging/running shoes with a retail value of $1.7325 billion (and average price of $50.99) were purchased by U.S. residents. This is a 4% increase from $1.6702 billion value in 2001. Some of the categories with comparable percentile gains such as basketball (4% increase to 788.8 billion in 2002) have been recovering from dips in recent years. Of the 23 athletic and footwear categories tracked by NSGA in the report, running/jogging shoes and skateboarding shoes (the latter with 190 million sales in 2002) were the only two that did not decline in value at least one of the last four years. [source: "Sporting Goods Market in 2003" is an 87 page statistical study of retail sales for representative categories of sporting goods and recreational equipment. It also includes demographic distribution data for each consumer purchase category. More information can be found at National Sporting Goods Association].

Road Race Snapshot

As an extended road race family in the U.S. that was 7,746,000 strong in 2002, road racing is one of the rare sports that can accommodate a family with an active 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, a mom and college-aged daughter who want to be fit and support a cause, a competitive dad, aunt and uncle who run for personal bests, a grandfather who's not that much slower than his sons and a grandmother who enjoys a leisurely stroll - all in the same event. In fact that group would be a good representation of the entire 5 km "family" of participants.

Road race demographics released by the USA Track & Field Road Running Information Center (USATF RRIC) mirror the overall population of the U.S., with a 50/50 split of men and women and participation from all age, ethnic and economic groups. There is a training group, fun run and competitive race for everyone, with road racing and training taking place everywhere from vacation resorts to inner-city communities.

Age, Sex and Median Times

The number of masters athletes (40 years and over) in road events is much higher than 10 years ago, with the estimated number of finishers rising to 3,160,000 finishers in 2002, up from 2,040,000 in 1993. Masters runners account for 41 percent of all finishers, down just 1 percent from 2000. The number of junior road racers (19 and under) has been increasing in the last few years and now accounts for 14.1% of all 5 km finishers and 8.5% of 10 km, up from 12% and 6% in 2000 respectively.

The average age (mean) for 2002 participants in 5 km to marathons varied from 34 to 36 for females and 36 to 40 for males with the longer distances producing the oldest fields in most instances. Ultra events from 50 km to 100 miles had average female and male ages of 41 and 43 respectively.

The road race population also has a higher percent of women than the "frequent runner" groups identified by ASD (44.6% females) and NSGA (44.2% females). The highest percentage of women occurs in the 5 km events (60.6%) while the lowest (36.6%) occurred in the 25 km distance. Lower still are the "ultra" distances of 100 km (24% women) and 50 miles (28%). Some of the largest women's fields were in 2002 marathons such as Portland (58%), Rock 'n Roll (54.2% ) and Disney (50.9%), possibly indicating that race size and atmosphere are stronger factors in female participation. The overall male to female ratio for race finishers in all distances has remained close to 50/50 for the last two years.

Getting back to the 5 km "family", an average age of 37 and a median time of 35:00 does not begin to describe the diverse 5 km race population. The following chart lists median times from the major age groups in all 2002 5 km results submitted to USATF:

2002 5 km Participants

Median Time
Males (mean age=36) 28:16
5 to 19 yrs 28:27
open (20-39) 27:24
Masters (40+) 28:43
Females (mean age=34.8) 42:52
5 to 19 yrs 38:17
open (20-39) 37:45
Masters (40+) 50:48

The range of times run by the males is much more narrow than the range of the female times. The women who are 40 and older are essentially walking, with an average time of 50 minutes and 48 seconds confirming that many 5 km races offer two events in one - a run and a walk. When the charity events such as Revlon Run for Women and Race for the Cure are taken out of the finisher pool, the times are considerably faster - especially for the women, as illustrated by the following:

2002 5 km Participants (without cause events)

Median Time
Males (mean age 36.5) 26:42
5 to 19 yrs 26:41
open (20-39) 25:58
Masters (40+) 27:19
Females (mean age 34.2) 33:45
5 to 19 yrs 32:39
open (20-39) 32:14
Masters (40+) 37:10

2002 Growth Spread Across Distances

The extended road race family in the U.S. was 7,746,000 strong in 2002. Runners continued to flock to 5 km races, a distance that accounted for 39% of the finishers and 49.7% of courses certified (599 out of 1205) by USATF in 2002. The second most popular distance was the 10 km, with 13.3% of the finishers and 13.9% of the courses certified last year. The distances showing the most growth for the same events received in both 2001 and 2002 were 1 miles (up 11%), 25 km (up 10%), 15 km (up 7%), half-marathons (up 5.4%) and marathons (up 5.3%). The following chart summarizes the 2002 total estimates provided by the USATF RRIC.

Estimated Total Road Race Finishers in '02

5 km 39.0% 3,021,000
10 km 13.3% 1,029,000
8 km / 5 mi. 7.8% 602,000
Marathon 5.8% 450,000
Half-Marathon 6.7% 516,000
4 mi. 2.4% 185,000
1 mi. 5.7% 441,000
2-3 mi. 1.6% 125,000
12 km 1.5% 115,000
15 km - 30 km 4.3% 333,000
Others 12.0% 929,000
100.0% 7,746,000

USATF would like to thank all race directors, timers and state record keepers who contributed to the collection of race results in 2002. For instructions on submitting 2003 electronic results for records, rankings and demographic purposes, please see the Results section of the web site.

Additional information on runner demographics can be found on (National Sporting Goods Association),

Largest Running Events of 2002

The countrys largest races continued their growth trend in 2002, according to data released by USA Track & Fields Road Running Information Center. The 100 largest running events had a total of 1,364,568 finishers, compared to 1,335,849 in 2001. (The number of finishers is approximately 80 to 85% of the entrant total.) The depth of this growth is reflected in the fact that 100th-largest event had 5,923 finishers in 2002, compared to 5,708 the previous year, while the number of results received by the USATF RRIC from races that had more than 5,000 finishers increased from 119 to 137.

The most obvious difference in the 2002 and 2001 Largest 100 Races lists is the lower rank for Bay to Breakers 12 km (from #1 in 2001 to #5). The decrease was due to a major change in sponsorship and transition to a new management team. New to the list in 2002 were Race for the Cure 5 km events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which timed 23,540 and 20,031 runners, respectively. The Washington D.C. Marathon also made an impressive debut with 4,295 finishers. The largest percentage growth was seen in the Ukrop Monument 10 km, which increased from 3,848 to 5,360 from 2001 to 2002. California had the most races in the top 100 (14) followed by New York (8), Texas (6) and Pennsylvania (6). Washington, D.C. tied with New York City for the city with the most races in the top 100 (6), followed by San Diego (5).

Note that there has been a trend for some charity runs, such as the Race for the Cure 5 km, not to provide timing services in some cities. Untimed races take on the status of more of a fun run, rather than a race. For this reason USATF will not include untimed events in future Largest Running Events by Distance lists.

Cause Events Dominate 5 km, 1 Mile

Increases seen in the '90s in women-only events have leveled off (in fact there was a reduction of 6% from 2001 to 2002 for the same women-only events). Womens cause events, however, have continued to grow, led by the dominant Race for the Cure Series, which raises money for breast cancer research. Twenty-one of the largest 25 (and 70 out of the top 100) 5 km runs were Race for the Cure events, most of which were co-ed. Two of the remaining largest 25 5 km races were Revlon Runs for Women which also raise funds for breast cancer and is held on both coasts. Out of the top 50 women-only events, 35 were from Race for the Cure and only 17 of the top 50 were timed. Even fewer participants in charity events are being timed in 2003 (see note above). Of the top 25 largest 1 mile events, 21 were from Race for the Cure and the remaining four were youth events.

For the largest 100 timed races, largest running events by distance, largest women-only events and largest youth runs, go to

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