Research released to the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) first Global Running Conference in Lanzhou in China shows that, for the first time in history, there were more female runners than male runners in 2018, with 50.23 per cent of runners being female.
The research, conducted by the IAAF and RunRepeat.com, has been drawn from the largest study of race results in history.
The conclusions presented are based on data from more than 107 million race results across more than 70,000 races from 1986 to 2019 mostly in Europe and North America.
The Conference discussed the benefits that mass participation road races bring to host cities, the economic benefits to cities, the health benefits to participants and their demographics, as well as best practices for organising events in environmentally sustainable ways.
More people run than do any other sport on the planet, but a trend towards sedentary lifestyles, particularly among young people, still threatens the health of communities, the 600 attendees heard.
That warning was delivered by the IAAF chief executive Jon Ridgeon, a silver medallist in the 110 metres hurdles at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, in his opening address to a three-day conference involving representatives of 100 IAAF Label races from around the world.
The research data also showed a small decline in mass participation running events over the past few years, mostly in Europe and North America, and highlighted that the marathon distance gets most of the attention, yet it accounts for only 12 per cent of race results.
Runners have never been older, with an average age of 34 in 1986 and 39 in 2019, and that finish times of male runners have never been slower while female participants have recently improved.
The fastest recreational nation was determined to be Spain with an average marathon finish time of 3 hour 53min 59sec, followed by Switzerland, with 3:55:12 and Portugal with 3:59:31.
Commenting on the research, Jens Jakob Andersen, founder and chief executive of RunRepeat.com, said: "There have never been more people who travel to participate in races.
"The language barriers are being broken down by more people than ever traveling to non-English speaking countries and with motivations that are focused on social, health and physiological benefits."
Ridgeon added: "At the IAAF, promoting physical activity sits at the heart of what we are in business to do.
"The research from RunRepeat.com shows that mass participation events are essentially a broadly aging and primarily middle-class activity.
"Which means we need to help individuals who like running by themselves to stay fit and healthy to find new ways to enjoy running in mass events and encourage others to aspire to this lifestyle, to this way of life.
"This will take campaigning, collaboration and coordination by cities, event organisers and private partnerships.
"Habits and lifestyle choices are often ingrained at an early age so we need to tackle the decline of physical activity in young people around the world."
In 2018, 1,581 sanctioned road running races were held in China compared to just 22 in 2011.
During that same period, participation grew from 400,000 runners to 5.83 million runners.
Today will see the second edition of IAAF Run 24:1, a global campaign with people from 24 cities taking on the challenge of a mile run in city centres, parks or other iconic locations across a period of 24 hours.
The idea is to encourage people to run or walk their first mile.
As a prelude to the series hundreds of people took to the streets of Lanzhou in China to kick-start the celebration of running.
More than 100 guests from the Running Conference joined 100 children from Lanzhou city and 100 local runners at Lanzhou Marathon Park to participate.
Passing through 24 cities in 24 different time zones, the 24 one-mile runs get underway on the Pacific island of Fiji.
The global run then moves to Melbourne and on to major capital cities in Asia such as Tokyo, Beijing, Delhi and Singapore.
Other host cities are due to include Mauritius, Nairobi, Milan, Gaborone, Copenhagen, Istanbul, Bogota, Rabat and Havana.
The tour will conclude in Monaco, home to the IAAF.
More than 12,000 runners participated in the inaugural IAAF Run 24:1 in 2018 and this year the participation is expected to increase across the 24 host cities.