I just read a Wall Street Journal article (May 6, 2016, “The Running Boom Goes Bust”) that declared running was declining in popularity. According to this article, millennials aren’t running as much as baby boomers. The article stated 2013 was the peak year for finishers of foot races with 19 million. Since then, the number of finishers has decreased, only 17 million in 2015. They cited a number of reasons for the decrease including higher race entry fees (due to higher security costs and permit fees); increased interest in studio-based activities like spin classes and CrossFit; and a fear of competitive events (no kidding).
I, for one, am not ready to sound the death knell for my chosen sport. The statistics cited in the article were focusing on people age 18 to 65+ years old. The article completely ignored younger kids who are getting involved. There are plenty of events geared towards kids 10 years old and younger. These events are getting a whole new generation interested in running.
In conjunction with the 500 Festival in Indianapolis, they have two events for young runners – the Rookie Run and the 500 Festival KidsFit. The Rookie Run is for kids between the ages of 3 and 10 years old. They run an age-based distance of 2 blocks for the youngest runners to 1/3 mile for the older kids. The participants get t-shirts and medals. The 500 Festival KidsFit is a 10-week program of lessons and activities to promote healthy lifestyles and exercise. The kids in the program run one mile each week before finishing the final 3.1 miles of their half marathon along the Finish Line 500 Festival 5K course. For kids it would be especially exciting because the grandstands are full of cheering spectators for the Indy Mini-Marathon and 5K. I am certain that there will be future runners among participants in both the Rookie Run and the KidsFit program.
There were also younger runners who entered the Indy Mini-Marathon. A newspaper article about this year’s Indy Mini-Marathon had an interview with Henry DeRyke who at age 12 ran the race alone. He finished in 2 hours and 3 minutes. I love his comment “I just like to run.” Henry is not unusual. I am seeing more young runners – as young as 12 or 13 – entered in the half marathons I run.
In Birmingham, Alabama there is a Kids Marathon the day before the Mercedes Benz Marathon/Half Marathon. The Kids Marathon is for kids in grades Kindergarten through 5th grade. Over the course of 5 months, they run or walk in a training program in increments – 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile and 1 mile – logging each run. They run the final mile of their 26.2 mile marathon on the actual marathon course. They had a motto “If you had fun, you won!” What a great idea to plant in a future runner’s head.
I watched the Kids Marathon when I was in Birmingham. Most of the young runners I saw were smiling and enjoying the cheering spectators. The announcer said every kid’s name when they crossed the finish line. They each received a special medal. I saw a boy running with a little girl – they looked to be about 5 or 6 years old. As they passed me, I heard the boy tell his running buddy “I am glad we entered this race!” The smile on both their faces confirmed it. Yes, I think they will be running more races.
At the Berlin Marathon, there is the Bambini Run and the Mini-Marathon. The Bambini Run is for kids up to age 10. The kids run or walk 500 or 1000 meters. There is also a Mini-Marathon for kids aged 10 and older where they run the last 4.2195 K of the official marathon course. Last September over 1500 kids participated in the Bambini Run and over 10,000 ran the Mini-Marathon. Nope, no death knell there either.
There is one thing that does worry me. I have run a couple of races where parents were participating with their kids. Some of the kids didn’t look like running a race was something that they wanted to do. During a Santa 5K last December, I saw a boy stopped at mile 1 in tears. He told his father he couldn’t keep running. But Dad was urging him along with “there couldn’t be many 6-year olds running the race” so he could win. One look at his red, tear-stained face made me sad. There wasn’t any of that Brooks “Run Happy” stuff going on for him. Later in the same race, as I neared the finish line, I passed a little girl who was struggling to catch up to her mother (a woman who looked like she could be a Boston Qualifier). This young girl looked absolutely miserable while her mom yelled back at her to keep running. She picked up her pace a bit, probably to hasten the end of her misery.
While I like to see parents getting their kids interested in running, maybe their approach needs to be a bit different. I realize that some kids might throw out that “I can’t” excuse (one of my personal favorites as a kid) to get out of running. It might work better if they let the kids set their own pace. Kids don’t regularly run 3 miles in gym class in grade school. They are busy sitting at their desks. What might seem easy to a parent who runs a few times a week could be a bit more of a struggle for a little runner who doesn’t. There shouldn’t be crying in races. They should be happy. It would be dreadful for a kid to grow up hating to run. They shouldn’t feel like running is punishment.
I am happy that race directors are creating events that will generate excitement among younger kids about running. I often wish someone had gotten me started running when I was younger. It would have been easier for me back in my youth to run the races that I have on my ”to-run” list. While millennials are headed off to spin class and CrossFit, I still find the easiest and cheapest exercise is lacing up my running shoes and heading out the door for a run. I am hoping those future runners do too.