Everyone has faced struggles during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic including those of us in the trail running community. Both race directors and runners have had to adapt how they organize races and train for the sport. With so many races cancelled and shopping habits disrupted, brands have had to find creative ways to connect with their fans and reach new audiences. Along with the rest of brick and mortar retail, run specialty stores have been particularly hard hit as they work around government mandated closures and/or implement COVID-19 safe shopping regulations.
At the American Trail Running Association, we have seen just how much our community has struggled and adapted these past 9 months. More trail runners are chasing FKTs than ever before, social media posts share heartache over race cancellations, virtual events have taken off, brands have experienced layoffs, and personal emotions are all over the map.
To better understand trail running and racing trends during the pandemic, we conducted a survey to find out how people have been competing, how they are staying connected, and if they are spending more or less time on the trails. From more than 2500 responses, we learned some interesting takeaways summarized in the following paragraphs.
As with all our surveys we collect some basic demographic information. Similar to many of our previous surveys, just over half of respondents identified as male. Three quarters of respondents were between the ages of 30 and 49 which is similar to what we see in U.S. trail race participation. Colorado, California, Utah, Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and New York were the top seven U.S. states survey respondents call home.
One goal of our survey was to see if the pandemic affected how much time respondents were spending on the trail. We were reassured to learn that in spite of the challenges, most trail runners are spending the same or more time on the trails. Only a quarter of respondents have been spending less time running trails since the start of the pandemic. Three quarters of respondents have been seeking out new trails for at least some of their runs. Only 2 percent of respondents haven’t been running on trails in the past 9 months.
We also wanted to understand what impact the pandemic has had on racing by comparing participant behavior this year vs. 2019. Seventy percent of respondents participated in at least one trail race in 2019 compared to only 30% since the start of the pandemic in March. Unsurprisingly, that data indicated a big increase in virtual race participation with 37% having done at least one since March. While FKTs can make big news and keep trail runners connected with the community, only 6% of respondents have attempted one in 2020. While only one person can hold an FKT, 23% of respondents are using GPS tracking devices to attempt personal records to make non-race performance improvements.
When asked under what circumstances would they return to in-person races, 26% of respondents are waiting until a vaccine is widely available. Six percent are waiting until 2022 before they return to in-person trail running events. In a sign of hopefulness, 41% of respondents are researching trail races online with the hope that they will be going to in-person events soon.
In addition to understanding changes in runners’ on-trail activities, we also wanted to learn how our community is keeping connected during the pandemic. Thirty seven percent of respondents are interacting with their friends on Strava, 30% are researching gear and trail shoes online and 23% are listening to trail running podcasts. Just over a quarter of respondents regularly visited one or more of the following websites – trailrunnermag.com, ultrarunning.com and trailrunner.com.
Photos by Peter Maksimow.