PART 4: Running for different reasons

Victorians are serious about health and fitness, but road races see a decline as people shift to triathlon, adventure racing

A runner makes her way along the Victoria waterfront.

Last in the series

There is a dense crush of wall-to-wall people when thousands runners pack the starting line on Menzies street for the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. The city, it seems, has no shortage of people who run.

On any given day, and especially weekends, the number of runners on the trails around Elk Lake or Thetis Lake almost (but not quite) outnumber the dog walkers. Running clinics are flush with hundreds of marathon and half-marathoner hopefuls eying a personal best or training for a first race.

But within the ebb and flow of fitness trends, road racing in Greater Victoria peaked about two years ago, and participant numbers are flattening or in decline.

The Victoria marathon topped out in 2010 with 13,995 finishers in four events (marathon, half-marathon, 8K and kids’ race). Last year it hit 11,674 – a 19 per cent drop. The TC10K, the other major running event in Victoria, saw 10,616 finishers in 2010, but dropped to 10,044 finishers this year.

“It’s a trend all across B.C. – on average, races are 12 per cent down,” said Bob Reid, treasurer of the Prairie Inn Harriers running club and a long-time race director and coach. “Newer races might be showing growth, but older races are plateauing or dropping slightly.”

An unsteady economy might seemingly influence athletics trends, but Reid doesn’t think so. He points to the growing popularity of sports such as triathlon, which typically have high entry fees and expensive equipment.

“The economy doesn’t affect attendance. Money doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Reid said. “People have different interests. A lot like running, but not all like racing. Many people continue running for fitness, health and friendship.”

And despite the decline in racing attendance, people aren’t abandoning running. Support for most road race events in Greater Victoria remains strong and entries are far above numbers seen four or five years ago.

“It’s amazing we have two large races on the Island, races with over 10,000 (runners),” said Mark Nelson, co-owner of Frontrunners Langford and race director of the Bear Mountain 10K. “A lot of big cities don’t have two events of that size.

“In sheer quantity, there are nearly two events every weekend, on average, in the running and triathlon worlds … with the majority in the Victoria area.”

Nelson said its difficult to pin down why some runners flock to some races and ignore others. This year’s first Goddess Run women’s only run sold out and had some 1,426 finishers in the half marathon, 10K and 5K races.

“The Victoria Goddess run did a good job. It’s a well-organized event that had a solid team,” Nelson said. “It had a great turnout for a first year event that had no history.”

The running culture in Victoria remains vibrant, but a race directors sense a definite shift in attitude. Many recreational athletes have used running to build a fitness base and a launch point to other endurance sports, such as triathlon and adventure racing. Others have used running as another tool in their overall fitness regime that might include boot camps or CrossFit.

“There isn’t so much a running craze than an outdoor fitness craze,” Nelson said. “A lot of people might do trail running, the Victoria marathon, (Mind over Mountain) triathlon. A lot of people do a bit of everything.”

Phil Nicholls, owner of Island Runner and national-level marathoner in the 1990s, says Victoria’s running culture has shifted over the decades, from a relatively small band of dedicated runners who trained intensely to a popularized activity for thousands of people looking for a challenge and to stay fit.

Nicholls points to the rapid growth of the Victoria half-marathon. From 2009 to 2010 it added more than a thousand entrants to hit more than 5,700 people coursing through the route. The marathon entries stayed steady at about 2,600 for those years.

“There is definitely also a health boom; the outdoor fitness boom is there,” said Nicholls, the race director for the McNeill Bay Half-Marathon.

“I think we are one of the better cities overall. People take fitness seriously as a lifestyle.”

On your mark, get set … go

• The 33rd annual GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon weekend kicks off today and Saturday as more than 11,000 people flood into the Victoria Conference Centre for race package pickup, to tour the race expo and attend the speakers series. The marathon is on Sunday (Oct. 7).

• Participants will be on the race route starting with the marathon walkers at 6:30 a.m. The 8K road race starts at 7:15 a.m., the half marathon (21.1 km) starts at 7:30 a.m. and the marathon (42.2 km) at 8:45 a.m. All races start on Menzies Street at Kingston Street, and finish in front of the B.C. legislature on Belleville Street.

• See for more information.

Stats tell the story

• Victoria Marathon finishers

2011 – 1,631

2010 – 2,643

2009 – 2,621

2008 – 2,042

2007 – 1,981

• Victoria Half- Marathon finishers

2011 – 5,130

2010 – 5,716

2009 – 4,608

2008 – 4,270

2007 – 3,869

• TC10K finishers

2012 – 10,044

2011 – 10,225

2010 – 10,616

2009 – 9,942

2008 – 8,816

2007 – 8,533

• Oak Bay Half-Marathon finishers

2012 – 760

2011 – 779

2010 – 644

2009 – 621

2008 – 544

2007 – 501

2006 – 481

Previous stories in series:

Part 1: New marathoners have reason to run

Part 2 on Running: Going back to school

Part 3: Marathon crazy

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