By Courtney Rockness

It’s a cold, miserable day in Wheaton, Illinois. Even so, I bundle up, lace up my shoes, and head out the door for my daily run. For me, a cross country athlete, this is no unordinary occurrence. 

No matter the weather, each day my teammates and I go outside and run. We have to keep in shape for our season, after all. We often joke that this is what makes athletes of our sport crazy. No weather will deter us from training year-round, as it might for the average person.

Yet as I jog along my typical running route, I notice that several other people are out exercising as well. Walkers, joggers, bikers, of every demographic. In fact, the trail is packed with people. 

This is an unordinary occurrence. 

The Running Trend

Why this sudden upsurge in runners and exercisers? I can’t help but notice this is not how things were even a year ago. It likely wasn’t how things were many years ago either. Exercising, specifically running, it seems, has experienced a major upward trend in the United States over the past several years. 

Exercising, specifically running, it seems, has experienced a major upward trend in the United States over the past several years. 

Running has been around since the beginning of time. It has to be one of the simplest sports one can pick up. All you need is proper clothing and a pair of shoes, if even that

According to one source, there has been exponential growth in runners in the United States over the past few decades. It seems to be a “running explosion” of sorts.

The “Running Boom(s)”

What exactly has caused this upward trend? In the history of running in the U.S., there are typically two periods in time labeled a “running boom”.

The first came about in the 1970s, following a series of events that popularized distance running as a sport. An American won the 1972 Summer Olympics marathon. Women were suddenly allowed to run races. Jim Fixx’s “The Complete Book of Running” became a national bestseller.

The second running boom occurred in the ’90s, as running became a more inclusive sport. Oprah Winfrey’s fitness journey is partially to credit for this second surge of runners in the United States. Between the years of 1990 and 2013, according to reports by Running USA, participation in running events increased 300 percent.

Since its initial surge in the seventies, the sport of running has been on a constant upward swing. Yet in 2013, according to Running USA, race participation hit its peak. According to it’s 2019 report, there has actually been a slight decrease in race participants in recent years.

In Recent Years

Yet does a decrease in race participants mean a decrease in runners in the United States?

Recent trends show that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, more people seem to be out running due to the recent coronavirus pandemic.

In states with strict shelter-in-place mandates, running is one of the few ways to get outside and get fresh air. So naturally participants have increased.

The pandemic has also brought gym closures, general restlessness, and more time to pick up new hobbies or healthy routines. And that’s all exactly what’s driving people out of their houses and into their running shoes.

Of course, in 2020 the amount of road races happening has drastically decreased, so it’s hard to track exact statistics. But one might say that the year 2020 could be the start of yet another running boom.

People Wearing Running Shoes
Photo Credits: RUN 4 FFWPU