Based on rising running trends seen in the tail end of 2015, here’s what we predict will be popular or will change within the sport for 2016:
1. It’s an Olympic year
Every four years, the American consciousness pays a little bit more attention to competitive running, especially when U.S. runners are in the limelight. Even if you’re not a total running geek, this will be a great year to be inspired by running—for both your own racing goals as well as the world-class runners who will be racing in this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Watching and reading about top-tier Americans like Kara Goucher, Galen Rupp, Meb Keflezighi, Desi Linden and other world-class international runners can motivate you to go the extra mile in your own running pursuits.
2. Anybody can run a half marathon
If you haven’t run a half marathon yet—or if you want to run your next one faster—this is your year! The half marathon has become the most popular long-distance race, with more than 2 million finishers recorded for 2014, because it’s a big challenge that requires training and dedication, and yet it’s not physically, mentally and emotionally overwhelming as the marathon can be.
3. The marathon still matters
Just about anybody can run a marathon, but only those who are willing to endure a 16-week training plan and do all of the extra work (drills, core strength, speed work, nutrition) should actually run a marathon. That being said, because it’s an Olympic year, there will be plenty of buzz about the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 13 and the marathon during the Rio Olympics, which will inspire many to test their mettle over 26.2 miles this year.
4. Ultrarunning is the new Ironman
Years ago, the marathon was considered a top-of-the-pyramid goal for many recreational runners. But then many went in search of something more and found Ironman triathlons to be the next big thing. Now ultrarunning has become the “what’s next?” endeavor for many endurance fiends. And while finishing a 50K, 50-mile, 100K or 100-mile race is a huge accomplishment, the trend is already leaning toward tackling the most challenging races that can be found.
5. Next-level wearable tech
The next generation of running tech is upon us. Instead of just counting steps and miles, modern products like Stryd, RunScribe, Ambiorun and Lumo Run will be able to monitor information like power output, running efficiency, force impact and stride deficiencies. Tech-enhanced shoes from Under Armour and Altra—shoes that automatically track your distance, pace and cadence—are expected to hit the market by late winter.
6. Wild socks and apparel designs
For years, basic, solid colors and simple design elements were the rule for performance socks and clothing. A few years ago bright colors became a mainstay, but now wild patterns, prints and designs have become commonplace. But the call to fashion hasn’t come at the expense of functionality. You can expect the latest apparel to cover both ends of the spectrum, from aesthetically designed race-day gear to multifunctional athletic wear with an urban vibe that can double as everyday casual wear.
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7. The continued growth of obstacle racing
While it’s becoming more and more competitive at the front of the pack, it’s still growing by leaps and bounds among weekend warriors. Short, fun races that require little or no training are booming at one end of the spectrum while epic championship races with professional athletes and big cash prizes are gaining momentum at the other. And it could
seriously become an Olympic sport by 2024.
8. Rising shoe prices
There are still several good running shoes available for $100 or less, but don’t expect prices to trend downward this year. Although many great performance-oriented trainers can be found in the $105 to $125 price range, Newton, Hoka One One and a few other brands have forever changed the spectrum with premium pricing—now there are dozens of models in the $130 to $175 price range. The higher cost of material, manufacturing and shipping are mostly to blame, but so too are the advanced features and designs. The ASICS MetaRun shoe—the most expensive running shoe ever—carries a price tag of $250.
9. Running retail changes
The best place to shop for running shoes and gear is at your local running specialty shop—and ideally one that is locally owned—because that’s typically where you’ll get the best service, local knowledge, and community interaction and support. But the retail industry is changing and those small stores that have been at the core of the sport for decades are struggling. Some of the best shops in the country are now owned by national chains more loyal to the bottom line and corporate shareholders than to the local running scene. Plus, there are dozens of online stores selling closeout models at big discounts. Support your local shops this year as a treasure of your local running community.
10. Running is fun
This should seem like a no-brainer, but this should also always be the single greatest trend in running. For some it means hammering hard track workouts in pursuit of faster race times or going on grueling all-day adventure runs to train for an ultra race or to achieve personal FKTs out on the trails. For others it means wearing a tutu and doing your best to merely reach the finish line of a half marathon, or showing up for a 5K group run after a long workday to blow off some steam and enjoy a happy hour beer with friends. To each their own! No matter how you do it, make sure you’re having fun when you’re out there putting one leg in front of the other.