The 2014 racing season is upon us. As we reviewed the 2013 season a number of interesting trends materialized. First, the number of road races in the Dayton and surrounding areas has nearly doubled in the last decade. This poses an interesting scenario. Are there too many races out there? Even more puzzling.....Why so many 5K's?
Less than 15% of the area events were covered a different distance other than the 3.107 miles of a standard 5K. During the aforementioned "Running Boom", 5K's made up around 30-40% of the events offered. The 10K was the standard distance of choice for the avid runner "Back in the Day."
Have we just fallen victim to the ever emerging necessity to make our precious phones, T.V's, Ipods, Ipads, and any other gadgetry as "mini" as we can--applying that to road races, too? Consequently, the number of participants in marthons have increased significantly over the past decade.
However, the quality of finish times in today's races are a far cry from what they were in the 80's. For example, in 2013 there were 19 runners that broke 33 minutes at the Minster 10K. In 1987, there were 60 runners that eclipsed the 33 minute mark. There were a little over 1300 finishers in 2013 as compared to 1000 in 87.
It's not just the Minster 10K. You can analyze long-time races like the River Corridor, Lou Cox, Picnic Run, and Englewood Classic and come up with similar results. What does this mean? Are runners slower....or-- just not as competitive? Who knows?... what is important is the number of participants are increasing. One factor impacting the quality of field of runners in a race is the sure number of races creates a cavalcade of choices for a competitive runner. This contributes to the lack of strong fields.
Finally, how important is it to have strong race fields? Many race directors could care less how fast the runners race their course as long as their numbers are sufficient. This seems to be the majority opinion amongst race organizers.
Another interesting trend has emerged in high school cross country. Unlike their counterparts on the roads, high school athletes are rewriting course record books. In a comparision of state meet results between the 1990's and the past few years, individuals and teams are running considerably faster than their predecessors. In 1993, the DI girls state meet featured 60 girls breaking the 20 minute barrier. This past season nearly 100 girls broke the 20 minute barrier on less than ideal conditions.
Does this mean the next generation of runners will mirror the runners of the late 70's and early 80's? That remains to be seen. More importantly, the sport of running is healthy and alive. Long may you run.