The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Marathon Participation in New York: Is Running a Dying Sport in NYC and Yonkers?

Posted by on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

The Lower Hudson Journal News reports that running is a dying sport in New York City. While thousands of participants have signed up for the Yonkers marathon, half-marathon, and 5K runs in years past, 2017 saw fewer than 200 people running in all three races combined. The 5K, for instance, attracted a paltry 41 racers. The newspaper reports the runs were “organized last minute” and “fraught with registration glitches, little advertising, and no sponsorship.” It was also dwarfed by the Riverfest celebration that drew 25,000 revelers the day before. This declining marathon participation in New York begs the question: is there still a passion for running events in NYC?

Is running on the decline for New Yorkers? I
Is running on the decline for New Yorkers? Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay.

Young People Fail to Hear the Call

Typically, high school athletes have been encouraged to get out and run local 5K events. The soccer, football, field hockey, and track teams have used 5Ks to stay in shape and remain competitive. But when Oscar Letona, a 49-year-old math teacher at Yonkers’ Saunders High and a half-marathoner, told students he planned to compete in the Yonkers Marathon, they’d never heard of it. This is quite the shock considering the Yonkers Marathon is the second-oldest marathon in the country!

The Decline of City Support

The City of Yonkers pledged to back the marathon again, vowing to get back on track for 2018. After all, Parks Commissioner Tony Landi admits the city dropped the ball this year. The races failed to appear on running calendars. The event moved from October to September to attract November NYC Marathon trainees, but instead, it conflicted with the 18-mile NYC Marathon tune-up race. Landi will be forming a new committee that includes business leaders, restaurateurs, shop owners, and school administrators to see how they can get the community back on board with supporting local races.

Yonkers Marathon Looks to Its Centennial

In eight years, the marathon will celebrate its 100th year. Yonkers’ hills make it a tough run, which is why some say it will never truly compete with Boston or NYC’s marathons. Others say it lacks the support of all the area running clubs that the more popular events have. Participatory medals and prizes also sweeten the pot to compete in events—not to mention epic finish lines and highly-publicized after-party spreads. LoHud.com summarizes, “People will come if they know about the races and if the city creates the special atmosphere around them that they deserve.”

The NYC Race Bubble Has Popped

Part of the trouble with attracting runners to these smaller events is that runners have to be choosier, as the local races aren’t cheap. One runner spent over $500 to compete in the NYC Marathon. It was worth it, she said, but not everyone would agree. Just a decade ago, the average 5K cost runners $13.50 to register. Now the average is $34. The average marathons price tag was $70 in 2006, compared to $123 today. A 2017 survey by Running USA found that 20% of runners plan to decrease their marathon participation due to cost considerations. Six in 10 runners said they would participate in more races if the fees were lower.

“Back when you could enter a road race for $10 and you could enter a marathon for $25, the sport really had no appeal or very little appeal for for-profit businesses,” Phil Stewart, president of Road Race Management, explained to the NY Times. As events like the Rock N’ Roll Marathon grew with an emphasis on the status and social experience of big events and more people willingly paid $295 to sign up for the NYC Marathon, a number of opportunists got into the game of sponsoring events in the hopes they could make a fortune. Yet, they failed to realize what runners were really looking for—especially in a big, crowded city like New York.

How Can We Increase Marathon Participation in New York?

The number of race finishers has fallen to just over 17 million in 2016, down from a peak of 19 million in 2013. The 300% growth from 1990 to 2013 (particularly from 2008-2013) represents the”Golden Era” of road races in the USA. Now, competition from other types of fitness events, athletic club challenges, tough mudders, and color runs are putting the squeeze on traditional racing as we know it.  We just might see more small group activities catering to individuals who want to stay active and healthy rather than the emphasis on a steady stream of participation in larger local races.

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