ARE WE RUNNING MORE?

Go for a stroll in your local park, chances are there’ll be someone out running. Are we experiencing a running boom in the UK, and if so why? Harry Trend investigates.

Maybe the increase in participation in recreational running, which some have coined “the running boom”, is due to the emergence of running events such as parkrun. In 2018, 414,618 people applied for the London Marathon, the most popular marathon in the world.[i]

Or maybe it’s the running clubs, the pillar of recreational running? From 2008 to 2015, UK running clubs experienced a 49% increase in membership.[ii]

Could it be the new generation? Are parents and teachers getting the importance of fitness across to the youth of today and making running exciting? In year six last year there were 10,000 more severely obese school children compared to 2006-07.[iii]

In December 2018, Sport England announced a £3 million-pound investment into parkrun[iv], a free 5K event held on every Saturday morning in over 500 locations across the UK.

In January 2019, 75,000 people signed up to parkrun, adding to the 3.1 million registrations the organisation ended their fourteenth year with.[v]

Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt said in 2017: “We have got evidence that we have driven about 100,000 people who weren’t previously engaged in running clubs into running clubs.”[vi]

Nicholas Brown[vii], who set up Hastings parkrun in 2015, believes there are many reasons for the popularity of parkrun: “It’s a friendly environment. Anyone can do it whatever age you are. There are a lot of people that are new to running who join. They just turn up, jog round and have a coffee in the pub afterward. It’s just struck a chord with the British public.” 

Some would think that parkrun would be the envy of race organisers, with runners potentially choosing the free 5k event over one which you pay to enter. However, Liam Burke, race manager at Nice Work events has welcomed the event: [viii]

“We actively support parkrun” Burke says. “Obviously, they’re getting new runners into the sport in an area where they feel comfortable. Those runners will eventually progress from a parkrun to a 5K where they get a medal at the end, then they’ll go to 10k and move onto the next challenge.”

Nice Work organise just over 200 races a year. Most races take place in London and in the South East because of the demand.

“Of course, if you put on an event in London you can guarantee getting 300-400 runners. We also do events in the East Midlands which sell out, getting 700-800 participants without fail. The East Midlands is quite a growing area along with East Anglia, where events are going from 200-300 up to 600-700.”

Burke is adamant that the success of Nice Work has coincided with the 2012 London Olympics: “I would 100% percent say we are experiencing a running boom which has been fuelled by London 2012, it’s not slowing down either which is quite impressive. You can’t forget the combination of major championships such as the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games which gives people so much inspiration too.”

Running clubs play a huge part in recreational running. Whether you want to find coaching, become a volunteer or make new friends in the sport, clubs are the best place to start.”

Pete Baker, a coach at Hastings AC, thinks that the social aspect is a big reason for people joining clubs: “Some people don’t like running on their own because it’s relatively solitary. There’s also a desire to improve performance and a belief that there’s some sort of magic formula coaches have got.” [ix]

On the other hand, some clubs are on the decline. Serpentine, one of the largest running groups in the UK, saw membership fall from 2,400 in 2006 to 1,800 in 2015.[x]

Also, Sport England reduced their funding to England Athletics from £17.2 million in 2017/18 to £7.9 million for 2018/19.[xi] This meant a widespread increase in the prices of club membership which is bound to put some off joining.

Steve Edwards, a multiple marathon runner said: “Normal, everyday life has changed massively, and this has had a huge effect on families, so I think a more flexible regime has become important.

On top of that, it’s clear that more people run to work, during their lunch hours or in the gym – things that didn’t really happen even a generation ago.”

Social networking apps such as Strava might be another reason for the decline of some clubs. The app, which adds a million new users every forty days,[xii] allows people to compare running times and records for routes and could be an incentive for people to train on their own.

Jeff Pryah,[xiii] British Masters Trail Champion and founder and coach of Rye Runners, believes one of the discouraging factors to joining a club is the competitive element. At some clubs, members feel like they’re being forced to meet a certain target at races in order to benefit the club.

Pryah conducts his sessions by time instead of distance to prevent members from feeling like they’re being left behind:

“We started the Rye Runners because we felt running clubs don’t cater for everyone. If you’re not really interested in performance, they don’t really fit.

We coach sessions and devise them in a way which is very much accessible to all sorts of people with the focus very much on helping them get fit, enjoy it and create a running habit.”

Coaches like Pyrah will continue to get people hooked on the sport, however expensive the membership is.

The yearly school cross country race is something that most dreaded at school. Some would try anything to get out of it. However, with childhood obesity on the rise, events like these are becoming more important than ever.

Elaine Wyllie, a headteacher at a Scottish primary school, set up the “Daily Mile” in 2012 after concerns over the fitness of her students. Pupils get 15 minutes out of class time, the average time it takes a child to do a mile, to run around a school playground or field. The scheme has now spread to more than 3600 primary schools in 30 countries. [xiv]

But while the “Daily Mile” is proven to have reduced obesity in the schools that partake, there’s no evidence that it has increased participation in running as a sport.

“I like to give a variety of sessions when we get the children to run” said Rhys William, a secondary school PE teacher who runs an after school cross country club.[xv]

“You need variety to give the children enjoyment. If it’s consistently the same, they’re going to start getting bored, the students need to see they’re progressing. I do my cross-country club on a six-week cycle, so they repeat the sessions but every few sessions the distance increases slightly.

It’s become one of the most successful new clubs in our school. We have at least ten students a week but that’s increasing. I know loads of students, as young as 5 and 6, who are doing more running now because of it and initiatives like junior parkrun.

Students who start playing sport when they’re younger are much more likely to continue when they’re older. Then if their parents are involved in sport, they’re much more likely to be too. It’s a domino effect.”  

With more information about health and wellbeing available, more and more people are starting to take up running in later life. According to a recent study by Strava, the 40-49 age group run most frequently, while the 18-29 age group the least.[xvi] A surprising statistic maybe when the peak performance age of athletic ability is 26.[xvii]

Neil Baxter, a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Warwick, has conducted surveys on of barriers to running. In a survey of 2700 former runners, 63% stated that work was the main barrier.[xviii]

Percentage of runners experiencing different barriers to participating in the sport as much as they would like:

Currently, most people in the UK acquire full-time jobs and start their careers between the ages of 20-25.[xix] Many of these people will be coming out of university education, which leaves them with the burden of paying off their student debt. This might lead them to work longer hours and subsequently give them less time to run.

The second biggest barrier was a either injury, illness or disability. Injuries disrupt consistency, arguably the most important part of the running habit. This can lead to people redeveloping the fears they had when they started taking part in the sport, thus giving up.

“My observation is that life takes over when you turn 18”, says Hastings AC coach Pete Baker. “The older you get, relationships come in to play, obviously you get other influences like drinking and so on.”

Thanks to the power of the internet and social media, race organisers are able to advertise their races and products more effectively. There’s no doubt parkrun has had a positive effect to these organizations too.

People are becoming more health aware, not just physically but mentally. Lacing up your shoes and getting outside for some exercise is now a common prescription from psychologists to those suffering from a psychological condition.

In the words of Pryah: “Running used to be a weird thing to do but now it’s more respected. In fact it’s become fashionable.” It looks like this fashion won’t be turning into a fad anytime soon.


[i] Virgin, 2018. World record total of 414,168 applicants for 2019 London Marathon. [online] Available at: https://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/en-gb/news-media/latest-news/item/world-record-total-of-414-168-applicants-for-2019-london-marathon/ [Accessed 1st November 2018]

[ii] United Kingdom Athletics, 2015. UKA – An Athletic Nation Strategy. [pdf] Available at: file:///O:/Downloads/UKA%20-%20An%20Athletic%20Nation%20Strategy.pdf [Accessed 12th January]

[iii] Campbell D and Busby M, 2018. Pizzas and other snacks could shrink in bid to cut childhood obesity. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/11/record-number-of-10-and-11-year-olds-severely-obese [Accessed 26th November 2018]

[iv] Sport England, 2018. PARTNERSHIP WITH PARKRUN WORTH £3M. [online] Available at: https://www.sportengland.org/news-and-features/news/2018/december/12/sport-england-partner-with-parkrun-for-three-years-with-3-million-investment/ [Accessed 13th December 2018]

[v] Pearson N, 2019. @NickPearsonRuns.

[online]

Available at: https://twitter.com/NickPearsonRuns/status/1091100104751222784 [Accessed 1st February 2019]

[vi] Muir T, 2017. Paul Sinton-Hewitt: Are You Part of the Movement? Parkrun is Energizing the World -R4R 018. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viIi5t7SW8I [Accessed 17th October]

[vii] Brown N, 2018. Interviewed: 11th November 2018 (frostymooserules@gmail.com)

[viii] Burke L, 2018. Interviewed: 20th December 2018 (liam@nice-work.org.uk)

[ix] Baker P, 2018. Interviewed: 17th October 2018 interviewed at the White Rock Theatre  

[x] Mensrunninguk, 2016. RUNNING CLUBS IN DECLINE. [online] Available at: https://mensrunninguk.co.uk/news/running-clubs-decline/ [Accessed 10th November 2018]

[xi] Sheffield Running Club, 2017. Increase in 1st claim membership fee from £25 to £35 for 2018/19. [online] Available at: https://www.sheffieldrunningclub.org.uk/increase-in-club-membership-fees-2018-19/ [Accessed 10th November 2018]

[xii] Craft S, 2018. Strava success: why the app adds a million new users every 40 days. [online] Available at: https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/05/01/james-quarles-strava [Accessed 12th  November 2018]

[xiii] Pryah J, 2018. Interviewed: 10th December at ARK William Parker Academy

[xiv] McIvor J, 2018. Daily Mile ‘significantly improves health’ [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-44053387 [Accessed 15th November 2018]

[xv] William R, 2018. Interviewed: 25th October at ARK William Parker Academy

[xvi] trailrunningmag.co.uk, 2018. SET A GOAL TO KEEP RUNNING, STRAVA DATA SHOWS [online] Available at: https://www.trailrunningmag.co.uk/news/articles/set-a-goal-to-keep-running-strava-data-shows [Accessed 10th January]

[xvii] Malinowski E, 2011. FOR ATHLETES PEAK PERFORMENCE, AGE IS EVERYTHING [online] Available at:  https://www.wired.com/2011/07/athletes-peak-age/ [Accessed 10th January]

[xviii] Baxter N, 2019. Barriers to running [online] Available at: http://www.neilbaxter.org/2018/11/26/barriers-to-running/ [Accessed 10th January]

[xix] Zetlin M, 2018. What’s the Perfect Age to Start Your Career? It’s Not What You Think, According to a Stanford Psychologist [online] Available at: https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/laura-carstensen-stanford-psychologist-start-career-at-40-entry-level-retirement-work-life-balance.html [Accessed 11th January]

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