Female runners fueling marathon, gear market growth, closing the gap with men

Wednesday, November 1st 2006, 12:41 pm
By: News On 6

Much of the growth in running comes from a rise in female runners, according to most running experts. The National Sporting Goods Association estimates that the number of female casual runners rose by 13.6 percent between 1999 and 2004, outpacing their male counterparts by 6 percent.

While men still make up the majority of marathon finishers, female finishers are closing the distance between them. Last year, women comprised 40 percent of total finishers, a milestone for the gender.

``Women are definitely driving the growth and enthusiasm behind the sport,'' said Brian O'Conner, senior brand manager for Nike Running. ``Younger women in their 20s are the fastest growing population in running.''

These Generation X and Y women came of age after Title IX in 1972, O'Conner pointed out, and grew up playing sports in high school and college. As they moved into adulthood, they're finding that running is a great alternative to team sports.

Sporting good manufacturers have taken notice. ASICS America Corp. reported that sales in female running shoes climbed 20 percent in 2004 and 40 percent in 2005. The company is estimating a 30 percent growth by the end of this year.

New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. recently launched a women's micro-site on its Web site and developed a direct mail campaign targeting women.

Nike has ramped up its women's running offerings in the last 5 years. In 2001, the company created a separate women's footwear department and engineer running shoes specifically for women.

The company also teamed up with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2003 to sponsor the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. The event drew 10,000 runners, mostly female, in its first year with 43 percent of the women under 30 years old. This year, the event sold out with 15,000 runners, 95 percent female.

Female interest doesn't look it will wane any time soon, according to Bill Burke, a race organizer for Premier Event Management LLC.

``In smaller events like 5Ks, we're already seeing girls ages 10 to 14 as the one of the largest age groups,'' he said. ``When you see Nike sponsor an all-woman's event and New York City host the More Marathon for women over 40, you know that females are having a major, major impact on running in this country.''