It’s still hard to fathom how the life in the running industry was impacted in the U.S. during the month of March.
By the end of the month, most spring and summer races were postponed or canceled, hundreds of specialty running stores were forced to close because of stay-at-home orders across the U.S., the Tokyo Olympics were moved to 2021 and the entire track season disappeared before our eyes.
And yet, running is booming – because suddenly it’s the easiest and only form of fitness activities available – and there are plenty of signs that it will continue booming whenever things normalize again. Here are some ways running might change as a new normal emerges in the second half of 2020.
Running Resurgence — The New York Times reported about “A Back-To-Basics Exercise Boom,” Sports Illustrated wrote about “running as the outlet” to escape the quarantines and social-distancing recommendations and Running USA has been telling everyone to get ready for the Third Running Boom. Numerous online coaches have been hosting podcasts and webinars for new runners and returning lapsed runners, including Olympians Des Linden and Jared Ward and their Endure Strong coaching platform. This could be huge for running when we need it most.
Running Retail — With Congress passing the CARES Act, it made $370 billion available for small businesses financial assistance to get through this rough period with various loan and grant programs. While that should help many stores offset the loss of springtime sales, the reality is that might not help stores that were teetering on the brink already, especially because online sales have been booming for the past two weeks. As always, the stores that will thrive will be the ones that engage the local community in new and unique ways. There are plenty of examples of those effort on runninginsight.com and in this Running Insight+ newsletter.
Online Sales — Running retail store owners have lamented the growth of online sales for years, but now it’s going to be a bigger thing than ever. As many running stores were forced to exist on delivery service and curbside pickup options or shut down entirely over the final two weeks of the month, RunningWarehouse.com, JackRabbit.com and numerous direct-to-consumer brand sites were offering 15 percent to 30 percent off in-line shoes and apparel. It should come as no surprise that, with a captive audience of stay-at-home customers, sales of running shoes, apparel and accessories have been booming from both mobile and desktop consumers.
Race Participation — This fall could bring about marathon mania — if big-city races are held as planned. With Boston (Sept. 14) and London (Oct. 4) rescheduled for the fall and Berlin (Sept. 27), Chicago (Oct. 11) and New York (Nov. 1), there could be five Marathon Majors in a six-week period. With new runners and veteran runners eager to participate after months of training, it could bring about a huge surge of participation and excitement.
Inexpensive/Virtual Events — Virtual races have always been a bit quirky, but they suddenly mean a lot more now and Zwift is growing by leaps and bounds. Look for more community-based free or inexpensive events to thrive in the second half of 2020 and into 2021. But look for expensive, top-tier events to fall off from previous participation because of the new wave of frugality sweeping the U.S.
Trail Running — Trail Running has been growing for years, but it could grow exponentially through the rest of 2020 given the concerns about mass participation events. If you consider that dozens of metropolitan areas reported record crowds at trailheads in late March and the notion that many cooped-up runners are thinking big, there’s a good bet that trail running and ultrarunning will get a big boost through 2021 and beyond.