By the Numbers: The Life Of A Race

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(click figures to get full size.)
  • Premise of Article

    "People have often told me that we are in the midst of a running boom, and I am delighted by the fact that so many people want to share my passion. But I am a numbers guy and I wouldn't really believe it until I can see it. Or more precisely, until I can graph it."

  • The Data

    The data is from:

  • Figure 1

    The largest race in this set was the Boston Marathon (2014), with about 32,000 runners whereas the smallest race was the Shamrock Shuffle (Lebanon, NH - 2005) with 95. If plotted those two on the same graph the smaller race barely raise themselves a pixel above the horizontal axis. So I split my plot into three parts, small, medium and large races.

  • Figure 2

    In Figure 2 I am plotting those same 19 races over the same 20 years, but this time I am plotting them to show percentage change. I am also regrouping them and plotting all races of similar distance together. My eyeball inspection tells me that the most interesting thing is that 10k's are nearly level! In fact when I do a more sophisticated analysis I find that 10k's grow about 1.8% a year and Marathons grow by about 2.5% a year. But leading the growth numbers are Half marathons at 3.2% and 5k's at 3.3%.

    In fact it is the rise of a new race (Lone Gull), and a destination race (Beach to Beacon) which have buoyed 10k's and keep them in the positive growth category. In the marathon category, all the statistics are driven by Boston, and I have been told that much of it's expansion is due to charity runners.

  • Figure 3

    Figure 3 is based on the number of races which have appeared on the New England USATF website's calendar. As Steve Vaitone reminded, this really means only races which registered themselves, but I'll take that as a representative sample. Wheres the USAFT-NE site tells me numbers pf races, I am plotting percentage change. Otherwise the raw number of 5k's would overwhelm all other categories.

    Over the last decade the number of 10k's have increased by 50% (38 to 58), the number of 5k's by 80% (185 to 350), the number of marathons by 160% (8 to 21) and the number of half marathon by 290% (11 to 43). There are now nearly four times as many half marathons in New England as there was a decade ago. Which doesn't surprise me, it seems as if many marathons are adding half marathon options, but the reverse is not true.