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Out There: Thank You, Millennials

The running boom is over. Blame the millennials. (Or maybe not.)

Millennials have a bad rap.

Sure, they pay way too much attention to the Kardashians, would rather text than talk on the phone, and insist on wearing yoga pants everywhere, but doesn’t every generation have its embarrassments? I mean, men once wore their hair in mullets and women found that sexy. Mullets. Sexy. Let’s reflect on that before we begin a conversation about man buns.

It’s become de rigeur to blame everything on the decline—economy, work ethic, the housing market, empathy—on “those damn millenials.” Added to that list: running.

“The running boom is over. Blame millennials,” says a recent Wall Street Journal article in a lede that set off a thousand Facebook comments. Their argument is centered on a recent Running USA study that showed millennial participation dipped from 35 percent of race entries in 2014 to 33 percent in 2015. Runners between the ages of 18 and 34 are trickling away from the sport in search of other physical challenges, and some people are happy to bid them good riddance.

“Oh, those poor millennials,” my baby-boomer friend John cried in mock horror after reading the story. “Running is just too hard for them!”

“They just got so bored with dancing around, getting sprayed with fun little colors!” another taunted with glee.

In recent years, there’s been a large increase in fun runs, adventure racing, and gamified workouts, driven by a millennial crowd whose focus is enjoyment, not competition. That annoys some people, who accuse young adults of dumbing down the sport. Terms like “oblivious” and “cutesy” and “not real runners” get thrown around in discussions of how running has changed over the years.

And the sport has changed. There’s no question about it. It’s different from the Very Serious Running scene of 20 or 30 years ago, where races were only for hardcore runners in the prime of their fitness. Today, just about anyone can train for and enter a race.

Thank goodness for that. Actually, thank millennials for that.

You see, this generation gave us ridiculous neon races and zombie-themed runs, and it made running appeal to the average couch surfer. They’re breathing new life into once-ignored racing formats like the mile. They’re the ones convincing their parents to train for their first 5Ks in their 50s, 60s, and beyond. Their color runs are about as far as you can get from “serious” racing, but their young children love doing them as a family. It’d be nice if the next generation loved running more than, say, hoverboards, don’t you think?

Say what you want about those damn millennials, but their influence on the sport has been for the better. Evolution is a critical component of survival and longevity—running is not exempt from that rule. And boy, have we evolved.

To be clear: I don’t mean to suggest that we do away with competitive racing and make every run a neon extravaganza filled with bubble machines, a petting zoo, and a Ryan Gosling kissing booth (though I must admit I would totally do that race). Competition between racers is an inspiring and worthy pursuit.

But it’s not the only way to be a runner. There’s value in making race day a celebration – of life, of health, of joy. Running is branching off into all sorts of wonderful, weird, and wacky tangents, and it’s quite thrilling to watch.

The running boom is over. Blame millennials.

But first, let’s thank them.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke