One of the many challenges run specialty retailers are going to face as the weather warms around the country and stores gradually reopen is getting enough people out to run in races — whether they are local fundraisers, group runs at the store or major marathons. The comfort level just may not be there quite yet and when it will be is anyone’s guess.

Those concerns are backed up by a recent survey of runners conducted by the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), which found that only 20 percent of respondents were comfortable participating in events with 20 or more other runners.

Smaller groups seem to be more acceptable – with 60 percent saying they are comfortable running with five or fewer people once a return to larger group running is permitted. That drops to slightly over half – 51 percent to be exact – that say they are comfortable with 10 or fewer runners

Among the conclusions and advice for race organizers and retailers of the RRCA survey:

  • Be prepared for a slow phase-in of return-to-activities in your community. Keep in mind state officials may say one thing, while your county or city officials may say something else based on local conditions.
  • This is not a like a fire drill where everyone will get an "all-clear," "return to normal" directive. Take your time to work with local officials to understand when you will be allowed to host group runs and produce your race(s). 
  • You may find that communities will start to allow for small group gatherings of 10-25 people before allowing events over 100 people. This may present an opportunity to implement some small, controlled group runs to test updated sanitation efforts to implement at future events and larger group runs.
  • Avoid group selfies on social media for the next month if your reduced restrictions allow for gatherings of 10 or more. It will help maintain/improve the nationwide example of runners being responsible community leaders if we continue to promote physical distancing.

Other aspects explored in the survey:

  • Event Running:Approximately 53 percent of respondents noted they would participate in events for the remainder of 2020, if public health officials allow them to take place. While that leaves 47 percent of runners unsure (23 percent) or not willing to run in events for the remainder 2020, 90 percent plan to participate in events in 2021 and beyond. Less than one percent of respondents having written off participation in running events in 2021 and beyond.
  • Event Size:For events, 500 stands out as a point of demarcation, with 53 percent of respondents feeling comfortable with an event up to that size (down from a starting point of 61 percent of respondents who feel comfortable with an event between 0-100). From there, the number drops quickly with just 34 percent comfortable running in an event with over 1,000 participants.
  • Registration Planning:When local permitting agencies eventually give the green light for events to occur, organizers should plan for the fact that most participants are likely going to register within a narrow window of race day, with 42 percent feeling comfortable registering one to three months out from race day, with a significant drop-off in comfort four months to a year before race day.


The survey was taken from April 21 to May 6. Utilizing the zip code question, RRCA was able to confirm responses were received from individuals from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Of the respondents that completed the question about gender (67 percent completed the question), 54 percent were female and 43 percent were male and 3 percent did not identify or chose not to respond. A high percentage of the respondents are likely to be members of a local running club and representative of runners and event organizers that are engaged in their local running communities.

For the full survey results, further analysis of the responses and subsequent recommendations, as well as a more in-depth discussion of methodology and demographics: