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Newsletter - Friday 9th March 2012

Dear Fetchies,

This week I'm going to look at how racing is changing. I don't mean the general principle, of getting from point A to point B in as quick a flash as local by-laws permit. No, I'm referring to the types and quantity of races that we do. The Fetch Race Finder has been open for business for eight years now, and the good news is that overall, the number of races it holds is increasing at a fair old lick. There were just 2,904 races listed in 2005, but 2011 saw our best ever figure of 11,459 (or 8,219 excluding parkrun listings). Here's how the volume has grown, year by year. The pattern hasn't really changed, there's a peak in late spring, and another one in late autumn.

The two things I like most about racing are the chance to push myself, and then the chance to push lots of cake into my face, whilst meeting up with fellow runners. It's become a regular Saturday morning habit, and so it's no surprise to me that 28% of our race listings in 2011 were parkruns because they offer both of those opportunities, and at a price you can't argue with. It did make me wonder whether other races have seen a drop in popularity because of this. I made this graph:

It shows the contribution that other races make to the annual racing calendar. The 10k drops like a freshly Immac'ed diver, from 27% in 2005 down to 18.4% in 2008, just as non-parkrun 5k races increase to their peak of 18.3%. Then the market for other 5k races reduces (perhaps as parkrun started to take off), and organisers move towards 10k again. Other winners include marathons and ultras, showing a steady rise over time. Losing out are 5 and 10 mile races, a cumulative 16.2% share in 2005 falling to 10.7% in 2011.

Onwards, and the next step I took was to look at the number of entrants to these races per year. Obviously the big caveat is that I only have the runners in the Fetch database to go on, but it makes for an interesting graph:

The red line shows the total number of people competing at all races, and the blue line shows the same figures but with parkrun removed. Overall, the number of competitors continues to rise, albeit at flatter rate since 2009, but the number who pay to do so has fallen slightly, despite an increase in the number of races available. With training volume recorded on Fetch rising by 14% in 2011 to its highest ever level, it can't be attributed to a shortage of runners. I looked at the number of participants by race distance, to investigate further:

10k and half marathon participation has fallen, and although marathon and ultra running are creeping upwards, the real winner here is the non-standard race distances - typically off-road and countryside races. Anecdotally, the cost of road closures, police presence and health and safety factors are pushing up the price of road racing, and with most of us feeling the pinch, it's no surprise so many of us are looking for cheaper options, whether it be parkruns, crowdsourced get togethers, or just wrapping up a big block of cheese in a spotty hanky and heading out in search of larks.

Happy Running,

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