Running for fitness has been growing for decades, until last year. After two decades of furious growth in footrace participants, the number of finishers dropped 9% in 2015, according to industry-funded research group Running USA. After a small decline in 2014, 2015 saw a slide that points to a sustained cooling of the running for fitness phenomenon. This was something that was simply unimaginable as recently as 2013, when Running USA reported that the number of 2013 race finishers had reached an all-time peak of 19 million. Back then, observers predicted an imminent crossing of the 20 million threshold. Instead, the 2015 number dropped to 17 million.
Running has been a sport that has been traditionally dominated by young adults. Running is losing its appeal to 18- to 34-year-olds, the current crop of Millennials.
While most runners don’t compete in marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks or 5Ks, the larger pool of noncompetitive runners also is shrinking – especially among Millennials, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Overall, the number of adults who run 50 times a year or more declined 11% from 2013 to 2015. In the same span, the total number of frequent runners ages 25 – 34 dropped 19%. Runners ages 18 – 24 dropped 22%. That translates into about 2.5 million fewer young people who run consistently.
Millennials are anything but sedentary. If you haven’t heard of it yet, ClassPass is a special fitness pass offered in 31 cities across the country. For a monthly fee, ClassPass holders can get access to the variety of growing boutique studios offering classes in cycling, boxing, CrossFit, ballet, boot camp, as well as traditional weight training. ClassPass has registered more than 18 million reservations in its less than three years of being in business. Most of its pass holders are in their twenties. Running alone will not satisfy Millennials desire to be fit – variety must be part of their fitness equation.
Millennials have also created and supported the rise of untimed events – events that are unapologetically fun and NOT competitive. The rise of these events are often seen as a Millennial fear of failure and attributed to the fact that they grew up in an era of a decline in competitive sports. That is one perspective. If you speak to Millennials, you will often hear them discuss their desire to unite rather than divide. Competition tends to separate some participants from others (i.e., winners vs. losers). Millennials are much more interested in the idea of fitness that can include all and exclude none.
This shift in fitness culture has huge implications for the enormous running industry in the U.S. Running footwear is the largest athletic footwear category in the U.S. Athletic footwear hit $7.1 billion in retail sales in 2015. It does not take a rocket scientist to see a shift in culture that will predict a decline in the sales of running shoes in the near future.
As with all of our organizations and industries, if we are aware of trends in our culture writ large, we can prepare and adapt to them, ultimately, shaping our future. If we are unaware of them, we will be shaped by the future.
Keep cultivating your culture!