Measuring Youth Running

The Big Sur Marathon takes the pulse of nationwide running programs for kids, measuring participation levels, availability, cost and more

There is much data available about the number of adult runners who participate in organized events each year, with Running USA as a dominant source. But when it comes to the nation’s youngest runners, quantifiable tracking is much harder to achieve.

In 2015, the Big Sur Marathon organization (BSIM) set out to change and improve that data set by conducting a Youth Running Program Survey. The survey focused on the number of school-based children’s running programs around the country, how many kids participate, what each program costs, and more. BSIM is a founding member of Running USA and also oversees the Just Run program, a nationwide, school-based running program that was named the Running USA National Youth Program of the Year in 2015.

“We’ve been involved in youth running for many years, and created our JUST RUN program 12 years ago. We think we are very knowledgeable on this subject, but did learn a lot from the survey,” said Mike Dove, a longtime volunteer for BSIM who focuses on youth programming. “We had absolutely no idea what to expect as to how many children were involved in organized school-based programs.”

The survey, which individually targeted every school-based youth program the BSIM team could find, came up with a participation estimate of 3.7 million young Americans participating in organized youth running program activities annually. For the programs that did not respond with their participation data, the BSIM team made an educated estimate of youth involved.

While that number may seem large at first glance, Dove believes it should be larger, and points to the total number of K through 12th grade school students– 54 million – as an indicator that “we have barely scratched the surface.”

Another interesting result of the survey was how many running programs operate primarily on a regional or local level. This is especially true for “Final Mile” children’s programs, in which kids train to run the last mile of a local marathon or other major community race.

“As you look at the data, only five of the programs that responded are active in more than 10 states,” said Dove. “Even adding the few that didn’t participate in the survey, there are not all that many national programs.” The five responding include the Fitness Finder Mileage Club, Kids Run the Nation, Mighty Milers, Just Run, and the Mini Mermaid Running Club.

Doug Thurston, Executive Director of BSIM, reacted to the data as well.

“You would think that virtually every running club and every major race organization would have some sort of school-based program, if nothing else, for audience development. And you would think that the members of community running clubs would want to get their kids involved in an organized program because they already recognize the benefits of the sport,” Thurston said. He sees the survey as a resource for those looking to learn more about youth running opportunities, or to find a program in their area.

The BSIM team hopes to encourage further conversation among the organizers and managers of youth running initiatives, so that best practices can be exchanged and collaboration achieved. They attend Running USA’s annual industry conference each year, and have considered hosting a meeting for attendees with a focused interest on youth programming.

“We wanted to create a comprehensive list of programs and contacts and websites for each program. If you look at the survey, they’re all linked to their website. If somebody looks at the report, they can click to learn more about each program,” Dove said.

They also hope that programs who may not have been reached to participate in the survey will come forward and share their data with the other respondents. Please email your input to Michael Dove at

Survey results to date can be viewed here.



Media Contacts:

Julie Armstrong, Big Sur Int’l Marathon / 831-625-6226


Scott Bush, Running USA / 503-704-7169