Let’s be honest: for a long time, road races were a white man’s sport. More specifically, a white-able-bodied-man-in-his-30s-or-40s-with-disposable-income sport. While races have changed with the proliferation of female athletes and non-white elites, the average U.S. road race still doesn’t reflect the nation’s increasing diversity.
But the sport doesn’t have to stay that way! Race directors can – and should – play a role in shaping the future of the sport. By taking active efforts to welcome people of all ages, races, genders, and abilities, race directors will not only boost their own event participation rates (and bottom line!) but participation as a whole, perpetuating the sport we know and love for years to come.
Here are a few tips to help you tackle this.
On the blog “Stuff White People Like”, marathons were ranked 27th behind farmer’s markets and Wes Anderson movies. Granted, this list is meant to be funny, but there is a bit of truth to it. According to the 2010 census, the population is 72% white, 16% Hispanic or Latino, 13% black or African-American, 5% Asian and 1% American Indian or Alaska native. In contrast, the most recent 2016 RunningUSA National Runner’s Survey found that 83% of regular runners are white, 8% black or African-American, 6% Hispanic, 4% Asian and 1% American Indian.
There is a clear discrepancy between the proportion of white, black, and Hispanic populations and their presence in the running community. Why? A multitude of cultural and historical factors are at play, but a common refrain is the same: they don’t see themselves in the endurance community – literally! Just like one might not think of themselves as a runner if they don’t see their body type in fitness magazines, black and Hispanic people can feel this even more when their race is not represented in events or the media.
So, when looking for photos to use in your race promotion – whether from previous years or stock sites – keep an eye out for athletes of all types and be selective in your searches. When seeking known athletes to make a “guest star” appearance at your race, understand the impact an athlete of color can have on the people who look like them.
And remember – black and Hispanic runners do exist! There are a lot of groups around the country such as Black Girls RUN!, the National Black Marathoners Association (NBMA), Latinas in Motion, and the American Hispanic Running Club. Reach out to your local chapter and start the conversation! Invite them to your race and see how you can help them get their communities involved.
Once women were allowed to compete in long distance races, their participation took off! But it had some help: race directors learned to cater to female athletes, and now they make up more than half of participants. While women no longer have a problem with representation, there are still a few things you can do to make your event a little more female-friendly.
For example, if you want to give your racers a high-quality tech shirt, offer a ladies cut! If you’re sharing training tips, give recommendations on sports bras and women’s running shoes. And while some women love the color pink, you’ll alienate a large percentage if that’s your only promotional hook. Find tips on marketing your race to women in our blog here!
The majority of runners are aged 35-44, with 24-34 and 45-54 following. But why not get the youngins and the elderly involved? We have a blog about race promotion for seniors and millennials here, but let’s give a quick overview.
For young people, it depends how young we’re talking! Offering multiple distances will open your race to all people whether they’re 12 or 82. For teens and young adults, hone in on the social aspect of racing with live mobile updates, photo sharing, and ways for them to participate as a group. Reach out to high school sports teams to see if they want to race together or volunteer.
Seniors might not be on social media as much, but you can still reach them with traditional race promotion tactics like radio ads or flyers in the grocery store, gym, or 55+ communities. Since retired folks are often looking for ways to stay fit and stay busy, they’re a great market for both racing and volunteering! If the hustle and bustle of race day is too much for some, that’s okay. Invite them to help make signs, send thank you cards, or simply offer their lifetime of knowledge to help with anything else!
When most people think of road races, they think of running. But that’s not the only way to participate! The Boston Marathon has long supported programs for athletes with visual or mobile impairments and the other World Marathon Majors recently expanded to include wheelchair athletes as well. You may think there isn’t a need for these races in your community, but you’d be surprised!
Of course, planning a wheelchair or vision-impaired division will be different from a foot race. You’ll have to think about requirements for the racing wheelchairs as well as who is allowed to accompany racers for assistance. Talk to other race directors or visit vision or mobility-impaired races in your area; see how they set their starts and take notes on what does and does not work.
Make sure you take these athletes into account for the rest of your race, too. Think about how you can provide handicapped parking, restrooms, and easy access to the course. If you are inviting athletes with visual impairments, think about how you can best include audio cues or even braille event maps.
In the End…
Think of everyone as an athlete first – just recognize that they might have different barriers and try to help alleviate these. Plenty of people will fit into more than one of the groups mentioned, so you might have to combine some of these strategies to make them feel truly welcomed. In any communications, ask yourself: who are you talking to? Is there anyone who may feel excluded? How can you fix that?
Remember that everyone just wants to have a good time and be part of the experience, no matter their race, gender, age, or ability!
Let us know how you make everyone feel welcome at your race and if you need more help with race promotion, give us a shout! We know the endurance industry inside and out and are happy to assist!