In organizing or watching an endurance race event, you may notice that most participants are in their 30s and 40s. Because athletes in that demographic have more experience than their younger counterparts and are generally in better shape than their older counterparts, event age demographics often end up looking like a bell curve. Just take a look at the TCS New York City Marathon. It’s not that other age groups can’t – or won’t – compete. You just need to know how to reach them. Here’s some helpful info on how to attract a wider age demographic to your event.
With none of the aches and pains that accompany old age, you’d think younger generations would be raring to go. But it appears that millennials might not be as competitive as their parents and won’t be drawn to an event for the medals. In addition, races cost a pretty penny and training takes time – two things that younger people don’t often have a lot of.
So how do you get them to participate? Take lessons from events like The Color Run and Tough Mudder, which have become increasingly popular with younger generations. Tough Mudder emphasizes teamwork and The Color Run, which has tripled in size since 2011, includes a post-race party for participants to eat, drink, dance, and socialize. Spartan has created it’s own cult-like following with this younger crowd, challenging people to work together (or against each other) to push their physical limits. It’s all about the community and sharing athlete stories, pictures and videos online.
Of course, giving away free beer at your event isn’t the only way to bring in the younger crowd. The most important takeaway is that this generation is incredibly social: they’ll participate in an event if it’s one they can share with friends, both in-person and online. Consider offering team or refer-a-friend discounts on registration. Reach out to them through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Show off the fun side of your event and give them a hashtag or photo challenge to participate in.
Keep in mind that even if it’s not a high-intensity race event, younger people might not be as experienced in training. Be sure to provide tips for them on how to train and avoid burnout.
The “Old” Folks
The 50+ age group is one of the fastest growing groups in endurance sports; however, there are still many older people who shy away. One reason is concern of overexertion and injury, but there is just as much reward as there is risk: regular cardio can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, and other illnesses that are very real concerns for older generations.
However, running is harder on aging joints, bones, and muscles, and anyone over 50 should consult a doctor before beginning an exercise program. You can help by providing age-specific training tips through your website or email. Older athletes should give themselves more time for recovery and more cross-training sessions in the pool or on a bike. They may need to adjust their race strategy, increasing water and nutrition consumption or switching off between walking and running.
Other people may say they are simply “too old” to race. We’ll be the first to tell you there is no such thing! Share stories of successful older athletes to give participants that extra push of encouragement: earlier this year, 92-year-old Harriette Thompson became the oldest woman to complete a marathon, 87-year-old BJ McHugh ran her first marathon at the age of 55, and Fauja Singh ran his first race at 89 and continued running until the age of 101!
Allowing people to walk your event will also help attract people who aren’t concerned with their race times. If you do this, plan accordingly. Have the walkers start behind the runners, and make sure you have the streets blocked off long enough to accommodate those walkers. When thinking about race awards ideas, consider offering awards for the last 3 people who cross the finish line in addition to the first. This can help those walkers feel accepted and not a nuisance to your race.
Regardless of age, understand that a beginner may not want to jump into a marathon right away. Try offering discounts on series that gradually increase in distance to help them out. For example, after finishing the 5k race, they get a discount on the 10k. After the 10k, they get a discount on the half-marathon, and so on. This will drive repeat registration and position your company as a resource for all racers.
Young or old, both age groups are greatly overlooked opportunities for race organizers. Try engaging people as race volunteers first so they can get a feel for all the different shapes and sizes that do your race. Get the younger people involved and you might see them start racing in their 20s. Welcome the older folks and your 55-year-old participants could be racing with you for another 40 years! Make it clear your event is open to all people, regardless of skill level, and remember – everyone has to start somewhere!
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