Trends & Features

More people are taking part in endurance sport than ever before

As a result the events market and its partners are witnessing continued growth and opportunities. Fiona Bugler reports

Participation in endurance events is on the up, with middle aged men and women loving their Lycra more than ever before and training for running, cycling, swimming, triathlon and obstacle race events.

Running tops the tables
There are an estimated 807,000 running events held in the UK every year. The UK’s flagship running event is the Virgin Money London Marathon. Almost a quarter of a million people wanted to run the event in 2016 and a total of 39,000 were on the start line.

Just under 56 per cent of the applications for 2017 were from people who have never run a marathon and a record breaking 43 per cent of the total applicants were women, compared to less than five per cent when the London Marathon first took place in 1981.

Cycling, swimming and triathlon
Cycling is also on the up. One legacy of London 2012 is the rise in people taking up the sport and since the Games British Cycling membership has risen from 45,000 to 100,000.

According to market research specialist Mintel, 100,000 people take part in sportifs every year, while British Cycling lists almost 2,800 events for cyclists to choose from.

Swimming is the top recreational sport in terms of participation, with Sport England reporting around 2.5 million adults aged 16-plus swim once a week or more.

Again triggered by the inspiring events of 2012, open water swimming has been a focus for growth, with the creation of new mass participation events, including Swim Serpentine in London, which takes place on September 24-25 and is organised by the team behind the London Marathon.

Another leading open water race event is the Great Swim series from the Great Run family, which features five events that annually attract 20,000 entrants.

Triathlon continues to grow in popularity, with the third Triathlon Industry Association annual survey finding there are 140,000 active triathletes in the UK.

Powerful influencers driving growth
Events are popular in the business world and have helped to transform the corporate landscape, with endurance events replacing long boozy sessions at the 19th hole.

The UK’s second largest triathlon is held in July for the property industry by leading property company JLL, where around 4,000 participants push themselves in swimming, duathlon and triathlon events.

Other mass participation events include the JP Morgan Chase worldwide race series, which pits banker against banker, while Standard Chartered holds a 5K in the city in July for thousands of Square Mile workers.

It’s a win-win for businesses – a company can tick wellness boxes and have the benefit of fit, healthy employees making up a productive, positive and proactive workforce.

There’s been an increase in demand for events that cater for the whole family as well. Hugh Brasher, race director of London Marathon Events, says: “The Vitality Westminster Mile is a perfect example of a family event, where we see large numbers of children under nine competing.”

Festival events such as the Prudential RideLondon festival of cycling include a: “Whole raft of events for every age category,” according to Brasher, who adds: “We have a family that includes three generations from aged 27 to 80 in the same event.”

Why we love events
In a time pressured world, having the end goal of a race can help busy people stick to a plan to stay fit, healthy and ultimately live longer, happier and more productive lives.

With an event on the horizon, there’s no escaping training and goals like losing weight – 65 per cent of Britons want to lose weight all the time, according to Mintel – will be taken care of without the crash diet or deprivation.

Events such as the marathon are, Brasher says, popular because: “Research has shown that the harder the challenge, the more appealing it is. The London Marathon provides a unique emotional and once in a lifetime experience. When else will you have three quarters of a million people on the streets of London willing you to be successful?”

Tom Bedford, son of former London Marathon race director Dave Bedford, is the race director of the Richmond RUNFEST, a family friendly collection of events that includes a marathon held in a beautiful part of London and on a fast course.

He cites the growth of the weekly free event parkrun as a being a driver for the growth in all running events: “parkrun has done more for increasing participation in running than any government backed initiative.

“The 5K is the perfect introduction to taking part in events. The weekly run, held for free every Saturday morning, has engaged a whole new generation of runners and led them on to try out longer distances and other endurance events.”

The influence of events
It’s inevitable investment in events and related services will grow. Virgin Active has created run clubs for distances of 5K upwards and partnered with Tough Mudder to offer members discounted events and specialised classes.

Increasing numbers of people are taking holidays in resorts such as Club La Santa or using events as an excuse for a healthy mini break in cities such as Prague, Paris, Rome and Barcelona around a marathon.

Similarly, events can help to bolster a flagging tourist industry in seaside towns, with triathlons and 10Ks helping bring in guests to local hotels and guest houses.

More extreme events can add a new angle to a holiday in existing hot spots and attract people during off-peak times. Take The Ben Nevis Braveheart Triathlon, which is held in September in what the local tourist industry calls ‘The outdoor capital of the UK’. It gives the adrenaline junkie outdoor enthusiast a compelling reason to head up to the Highlands.

Sponsorship stats
A clear measure of the growth of the endurance sport events business is sponsorship spend, which according to the US-based IEG Sponsorship report reached $118.8 million in 2015 – an increase of 4.6 per cent from 2014 – with brands such as Gatorade leading the way.

Clever marketeers continue to use events to their advantage and as part of their wider promotional strategies. Red Bull, famous for, it seems, everything but the drink it sells, has got on board by running extreme endurance events for its hardcore clientele.

And battery maker Duracell is now officially partnering the 12-race Great Run race series – which has 180,000 people registered for events, including the Great North Run, the world’s biggest running event – as part of a new campaign to help runners ‘unlock the power within’.

Picture © Virgin Money London Marathon.

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