In an article published in the early days of the pandemic, The New York Times‘s Talya Minsberg observed the contrast between the cancellations of countless marathons because of COVID-19 and the heightened number of runners making their way down the nation’s streets, tracks and sidewalks. “A running boom is taking off,” Minsberg wrote. And more than three years after those words were published, that boom is still in effect.
Overall, that’s a good thing. There are countless health benefits from running, and getting into a regular exercise habit is highly recommended. But there’s still one big caveat for new runners who’ve embraced the sport in recent years: if they’re seeking a place to compete, that could be a bigger challenge than setting a new personal best.
The sense that running has gotten overcrowded is meticulously conveyed by Dennis Young in an article for Hell Gate. To illustrate how crowded the New York City running world has gotten, Young points to this summer’s Al Goldstein Speed Series 5K, which he describes as “the platonic ideal of a low-key, unfussy summer race.” This year’s edition sold out — an idea that had previously been unthinkable. That’s not the only New York City race that’s faced increased demand lately, and Young notes that the situation is heightened by the lack of any new races in recent years, which could provide more runners with a chance to try a 5K, half marathon or full 26.2-mile course.
New York City isn’t alone in seeing an increase in demand for places to run. Earlier this year, the Denver Colfax Marathon sold out at both the marathon and half marathon distances — something it had never done before in the 17 years the races have been run. Last year on Reddit’s r/AdvancedRunning forum, one runner asked if “the big city 5ks [are] too crowded for a high 15s 5k runner to set a PR?” A number of the responses cited runners’ own experiences with overcrowded courses.
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Young’s report at Hell Gate offers plenty of data on how crowded the running scene has become in New York City, noting that 95% of New York Road Runners races have sold out this year, compared with 89% in 2019. This raises an alarming question: if runners become frustrated with the lack of racing opportunities, are they more likely to phase running out of their lives altogether? One hopes the supply of racing positions can increase to meet the growing demand.