Three ways millennial runners break the generation’s stereotype
Today, 42 million Americans are considered either a runner or jogger, and about 43% of them are millennials (born between 1980-2000.)[i] While, nationally, the generation only makes up about 25% of the population, millennials have an oversized impact on the running community.[ii]
For a generation considered to have high rates of anxiety, stress, and obesity, some millennials find exercise an antidote for these problems. In an era of $35 SoulCycle rides and its similarly priced boutique fitness competitors dominating the market, running provides an easily accessible, cheaper alternative. It is no surprise that road races have seen large increases in popularity in recent years.
Running USA and RacePartner sponsored a study to examine the trend, conducted by Achieve between October 9-31, 2015, which surveyed 15,631 individuals born between 1980 and 2000 who have completed a race. Their results show that as running continues to attract millennials, this subgroup is defying the generation’s stereotype.
- Millennials want to commit to a race in advance.
Millennials are criticized for their flakiness, but this research shows that they like to pick challenging distances to run, sign up in advance, and complete training plans. Half marathons are the most popular distance with 82% of millennials who race wanting to run one in the coming year and 65% have run one in the past year. Fun runs, like the Color Run or Zombie Run, garner attention but only 46% want to participate in the coming year. Instead, it is the longer, less flashy 13.1 mile distance that they choose.
Running a race is not a spontaneous decision for these millennials; instead they register months in advance and train for the distance. Nearly half (48%) of millennials who race like to register 3 months or more in advance, and 41% prefer more than a month. While the largest group (48%) has been running 1-5 years, 76% report running throughout the year even when not training for a specific race.
- Social media doesn’t drive their running.
Although millennials who race report finding out about running events through social media (64% describe learning about them that way), improved health and fitness is clearly the top motivator (according to 65%). When asked about elements that impact a runner’s decision to participate in a race, event-generated social media feeds came in third to last, with only event sponsors and age group awards ranking lower.
Instead, the top factors driving millennial runners’ participation are distance, cost, timed events (as opposed to fun runs), and instant results as one finishes the event. They are not interested in paying for either in-person or online training groups associated with a particular event. 83% said they wouldn’t pay for virtual or digital training groups associated with a particular race and 70% said they wouldn’t pay for an in-person running group.
- They don’t expect races to be easy, and they choose the bigger challenges.
Millennial runners want to be challenged by their races, pushing themselves to complete the course. Roughly two-thirds (65%) said they run to maintain or improve their health and fitness, in contrast only 18% say they vigorously train in an attempt to always run their best time. The majority of millennial runners are participating because they like the challenge that running and races present, but aren’t driven by the final results. They are most attracted to events that are well known and timed, and are interested in the experience more than costly additions.
Ultramarathons and endurance challenges, like the Spartan Race and North Face Endurance Challenge, have also seen growth in recent years, largely driven by millennials chasing the next big race and becoming bored with only 26.2 miles of a marathon. While only 3% of millennials who race completed an ultramarathon in the last year, 8% want to in the next year.