It’s time for the annual snapshot of the state of the area’s road racing.
As usual, Fritz Van Leaven of Tonawanda has put together a comprehensive report on the numbers. I’m left with the task of trying to figure out what they might mean.
Van Leaven’s tabulations cover races in Western New York, Southern Ontario and Northwest Pennsylvania. Here are his results:
• The overall number of races jumped from 367 in 2015 to 426 in 2016. That increase of 59 races is the largest in raw numbers since he’s started to keep track in 2005. In case you were wondering, there were only 116 races in 2005.
Participants in those 426 races numbered 132,507. That’s up about 2.5 percent over 2015. It also means the average number of runners per race was 311 last year, which is down from 352 in 2015. In fact, the average runners per race hasn’t been this low since 2007.
It’s easy to think we have just about reached the saturation point in terms of the number of races in a given year. Add those numbers to the fact that more local communities are charging for police services for races, and it figures that organizations will have a tougher time making money on their events. That probably would lead to fewer races, but no one thinks we have a shortage of them right now.
• The biggest races always do well. The YMCA Turkey Trot led the way with 12,244 finishers, followed by the JPMorganChase Corporate Challenge (9,974), Shamrock Run (4,121), Buffalo Half Marathon (3,844) and Girls on the Run 5K (2,705).
Remember that the Half Marathon total does not include the Marathon and 5-kilometer run, which are also part of the weekend. It’s interesting that the top 10 races in terms of popularity repeated from 2015; only the order was a litttle shuffled.
One footnote to this category: Remember that only finishers are counted. That usually means many walkers aren’t considered, and some races have many. So we aren’t deciding which race is the biggest “event.” We’re just counting those participants with a computer chip on their bib or shoelace.
• Race directors may be calling their counterpart at the Run Forest Run 5K to ask the question, “What’s your secret?” The event went from 278 runners in 2015 to 928 runners in 2016. That’s a staggering jump of 650 - or, to put it another way, a rise of 233.8 percent. Let’s hope they can maintain that level of participation in April.
The Shamrock Run gained 575 runners last year, and the Niagara Falls International Half Marathon jumped 395 runners. It’s always encouraging to see a little race like the Dolphin Dash go up from 50 to 157 runners in a year.
• The YMCA Turkey Trot had the biggest drop in terms of the raw number of finishers by 593. Since that race still had more than 12,000 runners, that may have been a matter of cutting off registrations at a slightly lower number for logistical reasons.
There are some winter races on that list that may have run into bad weather. It’s one of the hazards of putting on a race at that time of the year around here. And perhaps some races suffered because of an overcrowded schedule on a particular day.
• The Girls on the Run was the biggest 5-kilometer race of the year. It was followed, in terms of finishers, by the Bills’ Fifty-Yard Line Finish, the Susan G. Komen WNY Race for the Cure, the Tops Run/Walk for Roswell Park, and the Run Forest Run 5K.
• The News’ Runner of the Year series attracted 22,117 runners in its 11 races. That’s a drop of 413 runners, which is less than two percent.
• Several races debuted in 2016, and the Boys on the Right Track race in Hamburg attracted 773 finishers − easily the most of any of the first-timers. The Chicken Wing 5K checked in at 474, followed by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run/Walk (381), and the Queen City Women’s Half Marathon (312).
• June passed October for the most popular month to stage a race, 62 to 61. March finished last with 9, behind even January and December. The March schedule seems even more quiet this year, with only five races on the buffalorunners.com schedule. We’ll see if an organization figures out in the coming year that it’s better financially to go up against no other races in March than it is to compete against seven other races on the same day in May.
Runner of the Year
For competitive runners, The News’ Runner of the Year series is back once again. It’s a good way to see how you match up against the area’s best over a variety of distances.
The series tries to pick major races, spread out from the Shamrock Run in March to the Turkey Trot in November.
Last year, Pete Gratien and Jennifer Boerner took home the overall titles. But Boerner moved out of town earlier this year, so we’ll probably have a new champion among the women.
Here's the schedule:
Race name - Date - Time
1. Shamrock Run 8K Saturday, March 4 10:00 a.m.
2. Shoes For The Shelter 5K Sunday, April 23 10:00 a.m.
3. GBTC Half Marathon Saturday, May 6 9:00 a.m.
4. St. Gregory the Great Great Race 5K Friday, June 16 7:00 p.m.
5. Depew-Lancaster Boys and Girls Club 10K Tuesday, July 4 9:00 a.m.
6. Subaru Buffalo 4-Mile Chase Friday, July 14 7:00 p.m.
7. Ronald McDonald House 5K Wednesday, July 26 6:30 p.m.
8. Checkers’ Mueller Mile Friday, Aug. 11 6:30 p.m.
9. Linda Yalem Safety Run 5K TBA 9:30 a.m.
10. Strider Glider 1/4 Marathon Saturday, Oct. 21 9:00 a.m.
11. YMCA Turkey Trot 8K Thursday, Nov. 23 9:00 a.m.
• St. Patrick’s Dash, 3 miles, 319 West Third St. in Jamestown, 9:15 a.m. on March 18, 489-3489.