Participants near the finish line in Central Park during the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon on November 2, 2014 in New York City.
Photograph by Alex Trautwig — Getty Images
By Phil Wahba
October 30, 2015

The world’s largest marathon is taking place this weekend, with more than 50,000 participants set to run 26.2 miles through the streets of the Big Apple during the New York City Marathon. The race has come a long way from 1970, when 127 people did four loops around Central Park.

New York isn’t the only marathon to have made enormous strides. Overall, the number of participants in U.S. marathons rose 27-fold between 1976 and last year, with a total of 550,600 finishers running 1,100 races. (In the last decade alone, the number of finishers has risen by 43%.) The boom has attracted big business, as sponsors look for more affluent and engaged consumers in a market that for years had been niche.

“There’s been an evolution where it’s gone from solitary to social, with people running in groups,” says Running USA CEO Rich Harshbarger. “They’re not intimidated anymore.”

Judging by the chart below, clearly not.

And more women have taken to running, a trend that is fueling the latest phase of the running boom. (They now account for 43% of marathon finishers, versus 26% a decade ago.)

 

And while most marathons are small, local events, a few attract significant attention and plenty of runners.

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