Beyoncé was right. Who runs the world? Girls. Literally.
In fact, if you are thinking of running a race in 2017 and you are a woman, no doubt you will be in good company. Of the approximately 17 million people who ran a running event in the United States in 2015 (the most recent year polled), more than 9.7 million of them were women, according to research by Running USA. That’s over half at 57 percent. And the number looks to be growing.
Racing organizations—such as Orca Running—show even higher numbers for 2016. In fact, last year 70 percent of the registered runners in their events (from the 5K to the half marathon) were women.
Go back to 1990 and the numbers were completely opposite across the country: only 25 percent of finishers in U.S. running events were female, according to Running USA. But in 2010 all that changed with women taking over every year since then. Why?
An article in the March 16, 2016, Wall Street Journal sites Oprah Winfrey’s 1994 Marine Corps Marathon finish as one of the reasons for the surge in female running participants. In fact, Running USA’s research shows a jump from just 25 percent in 1990 to 32 percent in 1995, and then a nearly 10 percent increase in both 2000 and in 2005.
Owner of Orca Running, Porter Bratten, has some ideas of his own. “Women make up 65 percent of all of our races, and in many cases it's a much higher percentage,” he says. “Why it's so high, I can only guess, but I suspect it has something to do with the following observations—entirely my own: women care more about their health, women are more supportive of those around them, running is great me-time—especially for moms, and women are awesome.”
Another reason for booming female participation pointed out by the Wall Street Journal might be the rise of women’s-only race events and running clubs like Moms Run This Town, a training and social group that has nearly 700 chapters across the United States and Canada. There are even groups for young women, such as Girls on the Run, a non-profit organization that partners girls ages 8-13 with adult running buddies who help promote health, confidence and happiness by creatively integrating running.
The Wall Street Journal article also mentions the rise of fundraising-focused road races as a reason for running’s popularity among women. In the article, Amby Burfoot—former editor of Runner’s World magazine, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, and author of the book First Ladies of Running about female pioneers in the sport—remembers the first time he heard of Race for the Cure in 1995 (now the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure). The non-profit called up the magazine and said they had already registered 10,000 women for their race in the Midwest. “We were Runner’s World,” Burfoot says in the article, “and we were completely unaware that there was this tidal wave.”
These days, most races--including those put on by Orca Running—now partner with charitable organizations by giving a percentage of the proceeds toward their causes and making it possible for the registrants to donate even more money.
But, perhaps, one of the biggest reasons more women are participating in running events is for its health benefits—both physical and mental.
Orca Running ambassador, author of the blog Tamara Shazam!, and mom of two, Tamara L. credits running not only for her 150-pound weight loss, but also for helping her find some time to herself, including the much-needed ability to get lost in the moment.
“For me, running is where I discovered that I get to listen to music loud like I did when I was a kid,” she says. “From that discovery, I realized that as a mid-lifer-mom, I have very little time to myself. I’m working at my job or I’m on call to my army of people. My brain thinks for them constantly and running is one of the few places where I can just go for me.”
Tamara has been chronicling her health journey and her training for distance events like the half marathon on her blog since 2013. “While running only contributed to a portion of that health shift,” she says, “it did the job of showing me that I can do impossible things like run half marathons… Running showed me how to believe in myself.”
How many women will believe in themselves and finish a race in 2017? If the past is any indication, the numbers will grow.
Kerrie Turcic is a runner from Maple Valley, Wash. Kerrie is currently a copywriter by day, and also a