Fun runners hit the road in crisis-struck Europe

Sun Aug 12, 2012 6:09am EDT
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By Victoria Bryan and Keith Weir

HERZOGENAURAUCH, Germany/LONDON (Reuters) - As budgets tighten and working lives get more stressful, running is experiencing a boom as people hit the parks and streets of their cities to escape from it all and keep themselves healthy for just the cost of a pair of sneakers.

With places in marathons and road races from New York to London to Berlin being snapped up almost instantly, and hundreds of thousands of spectators turning up to watch the triathlon and marathon at the London 2012 Olympics, the $18 billion running market is set for further growth.

"There is absolutely a running boom and it's global," Mike McManus, Adidas market director for running, told Reuters at the group's headquarters in the small Bavarian town of Herzogenaurauch, where employees regularly make the most of the area's woodland trails for lunchtime runs.

While the successes of the Olympics may inspire some people to get off their sofas and into a pair of running shoes, medal-winning is not the main motivation behind the trend.

"People are doing it not to win, like Usain Bolt, but because they want to get fit. People run to have fun and keep their weight in check, because we all like to eat and drink a little too much," said Klaus Jost, chairman of Intersport International Corp, the brand management and purchasing arm of the world's largest sporting goods retailer.

The boom is especially noticeable among people in their mid-20s who are new to the sport and who see running as a way to escape the stresses and strains of working life, or even as a way to get to the office, say people in the sports industry. Running is also a cheaper way to stay fit in debt-ridden European countries suffering an economic slowdown.

Japanese sneaker maker Asics says the fastest growing part of its business is the under 25 category, while Adidas has altered its product range to make it more desirable to younger people.

"Running is getting younger. These are people who come out of college who take on running as a balance to the rest of their life," Adidas's McManus said, adding that 20 years ago, it was mostly older club runners who could be seen pounding the streets.   Continued...