Stop Blaming Millennials

My friend Missy and I at Sunday's Color Run in Chicago.

A recent Wall Street Journal article claimed that millennials are to blame for the decrease in the two-decade “running boom.” The article received a lot of attention, and we even shared it at Chicago Athlete, which generated some discussion via Facebook.

Now, obviously the statistics the reporter used are entirely credible, coming from various research studies. But as a person in this demographic, I think blaming a generation is sort of the lazy way out to describe the decrease in race participation.

Millennials, or those born from 1980-2000, are often scrutinized for their lazy, technology-obsessed and unreliable personalities. Yet, the number of millennials belonging to a fitness club continues to increase, and there are over 50,000 fitness-related apps in the Apple Store, which satisfies a young adults’ need for technology while encouraging them to be active.

The article attributed the mere 2 percent decrease in millennial race registration to the fact that we have a “hunger for variety.” I don’t disagree – I know many people that get bored with their workouts just as I get bored with the clothes in my closet. We see change as a good thing, but that’s not what’s keeping us from running races. Money is.

One stereotype of millennials that I recognize is that we are cheap; the “broke college kid” is something we all endure, but it doesn’t necessarily end upon graduation. Until either a well-paying job is landed, or another income is added (such as a spouses), 20-somethings are cutting corners to make ends meet wherever they can. I’m currently living with my parents so I don’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, and that’s a very common trend among my age group.

With race registrations ranging anywhere from $30 to over $100, depending on the race and distance, it’s hard to justify it for a free t-shirt and a beer ticket. But, same goes for the studio fitness classes the WSJ believes millennials are participating in instead – those have outrageous one-time fees, and unless the classes are offered free through college or a fitness center, I don’t know anybody who enrolls in these consistently.

As a former cross country athlete with several runner friends, my opinion may be somewhat biased, but I think millennials are running more than ever; not only is it a free and fulfilling workout, but it can be done in a short period of time, since we’re “always busy,” (the stereotypes are endless).

In fact, a study released in February, chose to focus solely on millennials who run. The Millennial Running Study found that almost half of the American’s who consider themselves runners or joggers are millennials.

“They grew up familiar with the appeal of running and have fully embraced the sport as a lifestyle phenomenon. Add in their relationship to technology and their strong sense of community, and they are a force the running industry must reckon with,” the Washington Post concluded from the report.

The study said that not only do millennials run for their health, they run because it’s cheap, reinforcing my earlier argument that race prices are a turnoff for participation. It also said that motivation for participating in races was largely based on how unique a race experience may be.

Color Runs, Tough Mudders and obstacle course races are popping up everywhere because of their authentic or challenging routes; if more races adapted these strategies, I’m sure more millennials would participate. I competed in my first Color Run just last weekend, and have already encouraged many of my friends to participate. If one shares their positive race experience, others will be driven to compete in the future.

It is interesting to analyze audience percentages, and try and figure out why people are or aren’t participating in races; maybe they don’t like the competitive atmosphere or merely don’t want to wake up early on a Saturday. Whatever the fluctuating reasons may be from year to year, young adults are running, and will undoubtedly continue running.

I think rather than accusing a particular group of people for the decrease in success, race directors and others involved need to adjust their marketing strategies – if millennials are the target audience, challenge us, give us a registration coupon and maybe a good spot to take a selfie with an accompanying Snapchat filter or a free slice of pizza, and we’ll run in your race rather than in our neighborhood.