I’ve never participated in the Color Run or similar races, but after seeing photos from these events, I came up with a theory.
The last one here in Tulsa had somewhere north of 20,000 people participate. And that number is probably a little low. In terms of participants, it was by far the biggest running event in the city ever.
I know several people who ran in the Color Run. They were all female.
I saw tons of photos on social media from the Color Run. Overwhelmingly, the participants photographed in this one were female.
And given the explosive growth in endurance sports overall, I believe that the fuel behind that growth is an increase in women participants.
Seriously, a couple of decades ago, this was the popular image of a fitness-minded woman:
Nowadays, that image looks more like this:
My theory is backed by facts.
The number of road race finishers has increased by 170 percent in the past 10 years, up to 13.9 million people in 2011, according to Running USA. That same figure was just under 5 million in 1990. Also in 1990, just a quarter of all road race finishers were women. In 2011, that number had increased to 55 percent. And given that spending on running shoes has increased by 68 percent over the past 12 years, can you guess who is behind the bulk of these new sales? (Thanks to the Imarunnerandsocanyou blog for these figures.)
Many races have become communal events where groups of friends enter and race together. Forget the image of solo male runners focused solely on times and a finish line. What’s become much more common – even ubiquitous – are groups of gals, sometimes dressed alike (or even in costume), having a ball together as they lope down the road. Entire races have been built upon this phenomenon.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of serious female competitors out there to win, and there are plenty of women running some very serious, difficult races. I’d also bet that their numbers are increasing right along with the rest of them.
And I will guess that similar trends are popping up in triathlons (think SheRox triathlon events, all-women races with thousands of participants each), cycling, mud runs, obstacle races and adventure races.
The next question: Why?
Is it fitness? Losing weight? Doing stuff with friends?
Yes to all of that, but I think there is one more really important reason driving this.
If you’ve gone much of our life having never run more than a couple of laps, then train for and finish a 5K, that’s a confidence builder. Next thing you know, you’re running 13.1, 26.2, or more.
Finding the mental and physical strength to do big things suddenly makes the more ordinary challenges of life look much more doable.
Or perhaps it’s reclaiming past athletic glory. Hey, lots of us have been there. It’s empowering to know that the prowess of your younger days isn’t gone forever. It can be reclaimed, in part or in whole, or maybe even improved upon.
These are universal truths, regardless of gender. But somehow I think it’s different for women than men, or at least it has manifested itself differently in the past several years.
I don’t want to presume too much, but you tell me. Am I right? Are there other reasons why we’re seeing such an increase in women’s participation in endurance sports? Let me see your comments below.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088