Helen Twose 's Opinion

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Jog On: More women are getting up and running

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Half marathons are a popular choice for women.
Photo / Thinkstock
Half marathons are a popular choice for women. Photo / Thinkstock

It appears New Zealand is firmly in the grip of a man drought with Statistics New Zealand saying there are nearly 49,000 more women than men in the 25 to 49 age group.

It's a phenomenon I'm seeing at street level - there appears to be a running man drought too.

This is a wholly unscientific observation. It seemed whenever I run men are in the minority and it is not unusual for women to outnumber the blokes three to one. The only exception is after dark when the gender balance evens out on the local footpaths.

In the US, the dominance of running by women is a full-blown trend.

According to Running USA's comprehensive survey of all things running, women made up 53 per cent of event fields in the US in 2010, compared to just 25 per cent in 1990.
It comes as part of a wider surge in the popularity of running that saw a 10 per cent increase in finishers in 2010, with 2011 predicted to show similar growth.

It's been dubbed "the second running boom" and in part is down to girl power.

Don't think women are aiming for the "fun run" five and 10 kilometre distances in greater numbers either. It's the 21km half marathon that is proving popular among US women, with females making up close to 60 per cent of event fields.

Running USA quote Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving - and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity co-authors Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea who say the popularity of the half marathon is down to:

1. The training schedule fitting nicely into the working woman/busy mum's life, allowing her to achieve a significant goal without devoting an entire weekend to running and recovery.

2. Training for a half marathon gives a woman adequate "me-time" (or girlfriend time) necessary for physical and mental health.

3. The pride and satisfaction that comes with crossing the finish line of a long race that requires both focus and commitment.

4. Since many US half marathons are destination events, they are a great way to get in a race, then hang out (and get massages and drink wine) with girlfriends for the rest of the weekend.

5. It contains the most coveted word in the runner's vocabulary: "marathon".

So are we on trend in New Zealand?

Organisers of the Auckland Marathon events see more than 15,500 runners and walkers line up for the marathon, half marathon, quarter marathon and five kilometre events.

Across all the events the gender split comes down slightly in favour of women, making up around 51 per cent of the field in the past three years - a very similar figure to the US
survey.

Drilling down into each individual event and it's a different picture. Women dominate the 5km and quarter marathon, accounting for at least 65 per cent of the field, but in marathon the figure is down around 35 per cent, says race director Richard Lindroos.
In the half marathon race 52 per cent of competitors are women.

Lindroos says the fact that the half marathon sells out only a couple of weeks after entries open could be one reason why women make up more than half the field.

"They were more organised, it sells out and they enter earlier than blokes do," he says.

Auckland-based event organisers Total Sport has been in the business of running events with an off-road flavour for more than a decade, organising everything from 5km to marathon distance runs.

Total Sport's Nicola Carter says there has been a "pretty big increase" in women taking part in events.

"A few years ago it would have been a 70 per cent male to 30 per cent female split. It is now consistently more like 50/50," she says.

It's seen Total Sport introduce kids' distances to many of its events and partner up with a baby-sitting service to make it easier for mums and dads to compete.

Lindroos, who travels to the US and Australia annually to promote the Auckland marathon and get a feel for overseas trends, says women's-only events have been a victim of the popularity of running among women.

"They're just dropping off like flies."

He says women now find general running events are safe, friendly, have a good environment and provide them with a challenge.

So maybe my man drought theory doesn't have legs, although I'm still convinced women significantly outnumber men out on the suburban streets. What I can say is women are embracing running events in greater numbers than they have in the past.

Events:

* Run 10km or 6km in the dark through Wellington's Makara Peak mountain bike park, Saturday May 26, 6pm.

Follow Jog On on Twitter.

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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