The question we’re all asking is has the number of runners grown since the outbreak of COVID-19?

The outbreak of COVID-19 has led many people across the globe to consider their health and wellbeing. With gyms closed and running requiring nothing more than the open roads and some comfortable clothes, we asked ourselves, is the size of the running market increasing?

Having managed the registration process for major running events prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and running a series of virtual events since, we are in the unique position of being able to compare both data sets to quantify the change in the Total Addressable Market (TAM) for running events in the UAE.

The registration data for major in-person running events, provided a base number for the market size - combining data from all major running events held in the calendar year 2019 to calculate the total number of unique participants.

The growth was then defined as the number of UAE residents who have entered virtual running events since the outbreak of COVID-19 but did not participate in any in-person event held prior to this.

Taking the pre-COVID TAM as 1, we first assessed the comparative size of the virtual running market in 2020. Indexed against the pre-COVID TAM the size of the virtual running market is 0.23, or approximately one quarter of the size of in-person running events.  

Of the virtual running market only 35% had previously attended an in-person running event giving an indexed audience size of:

  • 0.08 - Virtual running event participants who had previously attended in-person running events.
  • 0.15 - Virtual running event participants who had not previously attended in-person running events.

Previous research highlighted that experienced runners don’t see virtual as a comparative offering and as a result are not registering. Based on this it is fair to assume that the pre-COVID base is still running but not engaging with virtual events.

By combining the pre-COVID base with the number of new participants who have only entered virtual events we can determine that at the upper end of the growth estimate there has been a 15% increase in the TAM as demonstrated by the chart below.

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To further test the theory that the market is growing we analysed the data collected from fitness trackers of participants who had engaged in virtual activity. Combining data from Strava, Fitbit and Garmin connections we looked at the date that the participant created their fitness tracking account.

The aim of such analysis was to calculate an estimated growth range by understanding if the new participants were new to running or new to our database.

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40% of the participants who connected fitness trackers had only established that account since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the region. This would suggest that the majority of those who are new participants are truly new runners who have been inspired to start running since the outbreak of COVID-19.  

Adjusting for the difference between the number of new virtual participants and those who have only recently created a fitness tracker and taking into account the number of participants who entered virtual events but chose to upload activities manually would give a lower end growth estimate of 12%.

Key insight

With the data available to us it is fair to say that there has been approximately a 12-15% growth in the number of runners in the UAE.  


Virtual events continue to divide opinion between event organisers and participants alike, however, the data shows that virtual events are engaging new audiences and underpinning growth in the TAM for event organisers.

It’s important for event organisers to consider how to engage those who are new to running and further understand what will encourage them to register for in-person running events once they are permitted again.

I’ll end with a message that we recently received from a participant via our social media account:

“Thank you for the chance to enter sporting events because I never have before, because of you I have gotten over that fear factor.”

Surely it is time that the industry stopped considering virtual events as a forced alternative and as a pathway to participation at in-person events