The start during the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Nashville on April 28, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. // Photo by Donald Miralle used courtesy of Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon
By MATT BLOIS
The company organizing the Nashville marathon expects about 30,000 people to participate in one of its races taking place in April, and a majority of those runners will likely be women.
About 61 percent of participants in last years’ marathon were women, and the nonprofit Running USA estimated in 2017 that 63 percent of all runners in the U.S. were women.
Local retail stores say those number match their sales. At Fleet Feet, a running retailer located in Brentwood, women make up 59 percent of footwear sales.
Justin Porter selects the shoes for Fleet Feet in Brentwood. He said running stores all over the country started taking notice of the trend in the early 2000s.
“We’re pretty heavily centered around women. We know that, which is great,” Porter said. “We made that move early on. We knew our customers were women and that was fine … It’s funny we were ahead of the curve in something for once.”
Inside the Brentwood store, Porter said women’s running shoes take up more space and women generally have more color options. He said comparable shoes for men and women are generally the same price.
Women haven’t always dominated road races though. Women weren’t even allowed to officially compete in the Boston marathon until 1972. (However, distance runner Kathrine Switzer snuck into and finished the race in 1967, much to the chagrin of race organizers.)
According to a report by Running USA, less than 20 percent of finishers were women in the 1970s but that number grew to 56 percent by 2012. By 2017 that number had risen to 59 percent.
“You go back to early ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, it was a bunch of dudes talking about their split times, wearing inappropriate shorts,” Porter said. “That’s not what it is now. Women want to go out for a run. They want to look good. They want to feel good.”
The Fleet Feet brand, which has dozens of independently owned franchises all over the country, was started by two California women in the 1970s.
The Fleet Feet in Brentwood is currently offering several training programs for the Nashville marathon. This year, the company is donating all registration fees to a charity of the runner’s choice. Those training programs started on January 12.
The Nashville marathon, which will benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is scheduled for Saturday April 27. There will be a marathon, a half marathon and a five kilometer race.