But what once was a fun way to raise money for charities has become big business for the entrepreneurs behind the races and the brands and corporations now sponsoring them (Here's a Wall Street Journal take on the boom). A Raleigh entrepreneur believes he has a niche race to grab a chunk of that activity.
Race 13.1, a half-marathon series targeting second and third tier cities around the U.S., raised a seed round last December from Lookout Capital—series founder John Kane is also a partner in the investment firm. Kane has executed three successful races around North Hills in Raleigh, and will host five races this year, including the first in Greensboro this weekend. A deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina carries full sponsorship of all North Carolina races for the next three years.
Half marathons are a good bet for Kane. According to Running USA's annual report, it's been the second most popular distance behind the 5K since 2010, and in 2013, number of participants reached a record high. The report shows that nearly three quarters of runners have annual household income above $75,000 a year. Another intriguing statistic? 61 percent of half marathon finishers are female, the highest percentage of female participation of any road race. Consumer brands want to target affluent shoppers, and decision makers about those purchases tend to be women.
"We're a platform for organizations to interact with potential customers," Kane says.
Kane says Race 13.1 differentiates itself by targeting cities where other large race series won't go. His bet is that people would rather do a race in their hometown than drive or fly to a major market to participate. Because he's targeting an affluent population, his focus is on quality of service at the events—he wants to professionalize running in cities that may only have had back yard charity events. And there is still an element of charity. Race 13.1 picks partners to support annually—this year's are the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Camp Corral.
Kane says that he breaks even after 400 people sign up for a race, and these races are designed for thousands.
"We've got a business that is very profitable with great margins, that will hopefully make folks a lot of money all while getting people active and giving back to communities," Kane says.