There’s good news out there for any retailer or vendor focused on the trail — runners are back!
That’s the takeaway from one of the most comprehensive reports on trail running participation that was recently released by runrepeat.com in conjunction with World Athletics. The State of Trail Running 2022 covers trail running race participation from 1984 to 2022 and includes 15.6 million race results from 116,947 races in 127 countries, making it perhaps the most extensive report on trail running participation ever conducted.
While the impressive entire report can be viewed at https://runrepeat.com, here are some of the key conclusions:
• Trail running has grown 231 percent in the last 10 years.
• COVID-19 cut trail running participation by 97 percent comparing April 2020 with April 2019.
• Despite a strong comeback in race participation, 2022 has had 15 percent fewer finishers than in 2019.
• Races are getting longer. The 5k distance used to account for 75 percent of all races, now it accounts for only 45 percent. Trail races are on average 24.63 km long, which is 140 percent longer than road races.
• Trail running is unique compared to road running by having an extreme diversity in distances, whereas road running is centered a lot around the classic 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon.
• Races are getting bigger. In 1984, 72 percent of all runners finished a race with less than 500 participants. Today that number is just 12 percent.
• Trail running races have 91 percent fewer participants per race compared to road running races, so while the races are getting bigger, they’re still smaller than road races.
• Small races (less than 500 participants) have grown 629 percent in the last 10 years, whereas big races have grown 5252 percent in the same time period.
• Trail runners have never been older with an average age of 39.5 years old.
• Female participation has grown from 13 percent in 1997 to 46 percent in 2022.
• Men are generally attracted to longer distances.
• For every one trail runner, there are 5.3 road runners. So while trail running is the little brother of running, its growing popularity cannot be overlooked and today trail running accounts for 15.8 percent of all race finishes.
• In the past 20 years, trail running has grown by 2394 percent, and using the most recent 2022 data, trail running has grown by 231 percent in the past 10 years.
• So far, 2022 is 106 percent stronger than 2021. However, this is still not enough to catch up with the strong season of 2019. Compared to 2019, 2022 is still 15 percent behind. Runrepeat believes that by the end of 2022, participation was back to normal.
• The 5k trail race is by far the most popular distance in trail running. It accounts for 17 percent of race finishers. The second most popular distance is the 10k trail race at 9.4 percent of participation.
• While the 5k and the 10k are the most popular distances, one thing that sets trail running apart from traditional road running is that the distance varies greatly. In traditional road running, the 5k and the 10k account for 51.5 percent of all race results, whereas for trail running, they account for only 26.4 percent combined.
• Another difference is that in trail running, the popular distances are generally longer than the popular distances in road running. Looking at the 10 most popular road distances, the average distance is 10.27 km, whereas for trail running the number is 24.63 km (+140 percent longer).
• Trail running is still significantly smaller than road running. In 2018 numbers: Road running had 7.9 million participants; Trail running had 1.48 million participants With this trend it’s also obvious that trail running will have fewer participants per race. This remains (part of) the beauty of trail running: few participants per race. An average trail race has 133 participants, whereas road running races had 1541 participants on average.
• Trail runners are getting older. In 2000 the average trail runner was 37.7 years old. In 2022 the average trail runner is 39.5.
• Women’s representation in trail is growing. Back in 1997, only 13 percent of all trail runners were women. Today, women represent 46 percent (almost half) of all trail runners. And looking at distances below 10k, there are more women than men.
• Men prefer long distances, women prefer short ones. Men are more attracted to longer distances. There’s a clear cut from the half marathon to the marathon, where there is a drop off from around 47 percent to just 33 percent female participation.
This report was put together by Jens Jakob Andersen. Jens Jakob is a fan of short distances with a 5k PR at 15:58 minutes. Based on 35 million race results, he’s among the fastest 0.2 percent runners. He previously owned a running store when he was also a competitive runner. His work is regularly featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, the BBC as well as peer-reviewed journals.