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USC School of Journalism
It’s a cool fall morning in October, and once again streets are closed across South Carolina as runners race another 5K.
These runners rise with the sun to run in one of the many races available on any given weekend. They run to exercise, lose weight and even make friends.
Lucky for them, the number of races is increasing across the country as organizations turn to the sport to market cities, promote fitness and, increasingly, raise money.
U.S. running events saw over 15 million finishers in over 26,000 running events in 2012 – an 80 percent increase since 2000, according to Running USA, a nonprofit running organization.
South Carolina is on track to have almost 700 races this year. Not surprisingly, April, with 96 races, was the most popular month for racing given the mild spring weather.
Nonprofits are sponsoring many, if not most, of those races.
Fundraising has changed the face of running, according to Dr. Russell Pate, event director of the Governor’s Cup, a half marathon run. He said fundraising has brought “a broad promotional effort to races that wasn’t there before.”
Yet putting on a race and raising money is not as easy as it may sound. Ken Lowden, a USA Track and Field official in Columbia, said that most nonprofit or charity races don’t make much money in the beginning.
“A lot of races are coming about because nonprofits have so much competition,” Lowden said. “They have to find new and innovative ways to compete, and one of the ways is to do a running race.”
Lowden, who is also the race director for the Ray Tanner Foundation Home Run, said that most races begin as a way to build community awareness for a cause, and eventually races begin to see a profit.
“More people are becoming health conscious,” Lowden said. “Nonprofits are saying, ‘Why don’t we use this to our advantage?’”
Ryan Lamppa, media director and researcher for Running USA, said that a majority of races are tied to some form of charity.
“You’ll be hard pressed to find some that don’t have a charity component,” Lamppa said.
Palmetto Health Foundation’s Walk/Race for Life in Columbia, which supports the Palmetto Health Breast Center, has been around for 23 years.
This year, the race raised $630,000, according to Jamie Stancil, director of development for the cancer centers at Palmetto Health Foundation.
“The event is really successful. We’re really lucky we have a long history,” Stancil said, adding that the race had over 8,800 runners and walkers this year.
In Charleston, S.C., the Aids Walk and Red Ribbon 5K put on its fifth annual run with about 200 runners on Oct. 12. The event raised $7,500 for the Ryan White Medication Endowment Fund.
Stancil said that runners know that charity and nonprofit runs will have a positive impact on the community or benefit a good cause.
“People really get behind the cause,” Stancil said.
Even if runners don’t run specifically for the charity, they still get a good workout.
Pate, who is also an exercise science professor at the University of South Carolina, said he believes people use running events as a means to manage their own exercise routine.
“They target a race that’s coming up in a few months, and they use that event as motivation for them to be active and be active on a regular basis, to train and prepare for an event,” Pate said.
Lamppa said the running industry was one of the few industries that had not been hurt by the recession.
“Running is the one thing you can control: when you run, how fast, how far,” Lamppa said. “The average person doesn’t have any control over the economy. People being humans look for something that has substance and that they can control.”
According to Running USA’s 2013 report, the 5K race is the most popular among runners, with 6.2 million finishers. It accounts for 40 percent of all finishers in the United States.
As with any other sport, runners also need equipment. Fleet Feet is a national franchise of about 100 stores selling shoes and other accessories. Its location in Irmo also offers race training to its customers.
“In winter and the spring, and even in the summer, I don’t think you’re going to go one weekend without finding a 5K going on somewhere in the state,” said April Storey, the assistant manager in Irmo. “Generally, your 5K is going to be your most popular race.”
Storey said that beginning runners may spend up to $400 preparing for a race, and about $255 for a good pair of shoes, depending on the runner.
“I think that when you put that time and that effort into running and training for that 5K, you want something to show for it,” Storey said.
Running USA reported that in 2012 over 44 million shoes were sold in the United States totaling $3 billion – a 51 percent increase since 1998.
“It is an investment,” Storey said.
Runners have also embraced bright colors in their running clothes. Storey said that the colors help to make running safer at night, and they also draw attention to runners.
“They want to be noticed,” Storey said. “People do like to take it a step further, and you’ll see people wearing costumes.”
Novelty races, like a Halloween run or a pajama run, allow runners to get creative with their appearance.
“That’s the fun part about it,” Storey said. “What’s my outfit going to be for this race? How far can I push the boundaries?”
Running for health and for charity is good, but Storey said that ultimately runners should have some fun as well.
“The biggest thing is just have fun with it, enjoy the crowd, enjoy the race itself and everything it’s about” Storey said. “Enjoy your accomplishment. Enjoy the fact that you are doing something a majority of the world is not doing.”