Two Professional Endurance Athlete Cyclists In Uniform Listen To Their Coach

What Endurance Sports Participation Trends Mean for You as a Coach

BY Phil White

Keeping an eye out for the latest emerging trends in endurance sports can improve your coaching for current and future athletes. Here's what you need to know.

At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, endurance sports offered people an outlet to safely get active outdoors, and since then, more and more athletes have flocked to running, cycling, and triathlon, as well as more leisurely pursuits like hiking and riding e-bikes. In this article, I’ll explore the latest market analysis numbers and suggest what emerging and continuing trends mean for you as a coach.

Running More Marathons

As an increasing number of runners, riders, and other athletes have logged their activities with wearable devices, the companies who make them have gathered even more data. Arguably, the most comprehensive report with a large data set that’s widely available is the Strava Year in Sport community survey (2022), which consolidates annual user information. 

[Ed. note: The 2023 report shows the trend is continuing. See more 2023 reports at the bottom.]

The 2022 iteration shows that there was a significant spike in the number of people who ran marathons. In the US, twice as many entrants made it to the start line as in 2021. This “post-pandemic marathon boom,” as the Strava report called it, could be attributed to races finally opening back up without COVID-19-related restrictions. With one to two years of opportunity to run their favorite races lost to the pandemic, marathoners rushed to get on waiting lists. 

Large marathon race registrations also back up the growth numbers, including record-breaking participation at the Berlin and London marathons in 2022. This trend is backed up by Run Signup’s industry report highlighting a 10% growth in per-race participation, nearly erasing the losses from the pandemic.

This surge in signups for 26.2-mile events means that there are a lot of runners out there needing guidance, particularly first-timers looking to make the jump from 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons. As such, it would help your coaching business if you could create and market a marathon plan to existing and prospective clients.

Preparing for Different Climates and Altitudes

While domestic marathons and Ironmans continue to fill up faster than ever, another trend since the pandemic subsided is that more athletes are heading overseas to compete, train, and enjoy active vacations. “If 2021 saw travel start to pick back up for athletes, then it was fully off the ground for 2022,” the Strava survey stated. “The share of athletes uploading activities outside their home country was up 101% over last year – and only 3% shy of pre-pandemic numbers from 2019.”

Perhaps predictably, two of the top three destinations for US-based athletes are those countries closest to home: Canada and Mexico. The other is the UK, with travelers also heading to France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and even as far as Australia. Such destinations present different challenges when your athletes are training or racing.

For example, parts of Mexico and Canada are at high elevations, and it’s the same with the Alps, Dolomites, Sierra Nevada, Pyrenees, and other mountain ranges in Europe. If some of your in-person or online clients have access to a higher altitude than they’d normally train at (such as by heading up from Denver into the foothills), it would serve them well to start doing some workouts there to simulate what they’ll encounter when they go abroad. If not, they can mimic the physiological effects of being at a higher elevation through heat training, which legendary coach Bob Larsen did effectively with elite performers like Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. 

Should any of your athletes be attempting to compete in a demanding event at altitude overseas for the first time, it would serve them well to arrive as far in advance as possible. This will provide an opportunity for their body to acclimatize and get used to exertion with lower oxygen levels, which coach Hal Higdon explains in an insightful article

Heat training might also prove beneficial if any of your athletes are planning to dodge the winter blues by practicing or racing in the Southern Hemisphere. They could need your help in formulating and testing a modified hydration strategy before they leave so that they’re prepared to top up fluids and electrolytes. Coach Richard Rollinson suggested consuming at least 500ml of liquid per hour during activity, and offered some other practical tips for pre- and post-activity hydration here. Foreign travel can also necessitate the use of a different kit that takes into account local weather conditions, so collaborating on a sensible packing list would be beneficial for your athletes.

Shaking Up Cycling

Just like in running, cycling has seen a recent uptick in high-mileage training and racing. “This year, the share of cyclists with at least one 100-mile ride increased by 22% globally,” the Strava survey revealed. The UK, France, and Spain saw the biggest surge in ultra-distance cycling, with a 12 percent increase among US-based riders. 

While more people are attempting century rides, many might not be physically or tactically prepared to do so, which is where you come in. Implementing coaching plans that gradually increase volume and intensity will help get your clients ready to go longer and harder on their bikes without breaking down. This in-depth TrainingPeaks guide might also prove useful when programming for clients who are planning a century ride or Gran Fondo, which includes goal setting, training fundamentals, and nutrition advice.

E-bikes Are Here to Stay

E-bikes are another cycling trend to keep on your radar. While some people initially dismissed these as a gimmick, the data suggests that assisted cycling is here to stay. Strava reported that 26% of its cycling users logged at least one e-bike ride in 2022. While this might only account for a small percentage of your clients’ total training, it could be useful in certain situations. You should pay particular attention to your older athletes in this area, as baby boomers (aged 58 to 76) and traditionalists (aged 77+) logged the most e-bike rides compared to other age groups. 

“E-bikes are great for recovery rides, can help older clients who are new to cycling, and reduce the load for more experienced riders when they’re trying to develop downhill speed and want to cruise on uphill sections,” said coach Lawrence Herrera from the Performance Ranch in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Taming the Trails

An emerging development that applies to both cycling and running is that more endurance athletes are heading off-road than in recent years. “52% of athletes uploaded trail activities in 2022,” the community survey reported. “Some of us are riding the new trends in cycling – like gravel bikes and electric mountain bikes. Others are contributing to a surge in trail and ultra running.”

As I explored in a previous TrainingPeaks piece, there are some nuances that trail running newbies need to be aware of when heading into the backcountry, including higher peak forces when going downhill, increased oxygen consumption when heading uphill, and reduced ground contact time compared to road running. These changes can be tricky for first-time trail runners to get to grips with by themselves. Offering pacing advice for undulating terrain, building up off-road work cautiously, and programming strength training are keys to helping athletes who are new to the trails. Exercises that include jumping and landing, changing directions, and strengthening ankles, knees, and hips will help reduce your athletes’ risk of injury on the trails.

Group it Up

Another observation that the authors of the Strava report made is that trail running, gravel biking, hiking, and other off-the-beaten-path pursuits seem to be conducive to collaboration. While some of your athletes will prefer to head out solo, “trail activities are 55% more likely to be done in groups.” This suggests that if you haven’t already organized group rides or runs on local trails, you might want to start offering this as a value-added service to your local clients.

Women’s Participation Continues to Climb

One element of off-road racing that has shifted is the male-female split. According to RunRepeat’s The State of Trail Running 2022 report, “Female participation has grown from 13% in 1997 to 46% in 2022.” Interestingly, the survey also showed that as the distance of trail races increases, the difference in finish times between the sexes decreases, and in ultra events above 195 miles, “women are actually faster than men” among recreational runners.

The increased participation of female athletes in trail running and their exemplary performances in longer races demonstrates the need for all endurance coaches to serve women athletes well. If you’ve primarily coached men until now, I recently got some sound advice from strength and conditioning coach Nicole Elkins, who helped British Rowing win 34 medals, that might prepare you to adapt your programming.

Clearly, endurance sports have made a solid comeback since the dark days of the pandemic curtailed participation and shut down racing. The statistics mentioned here show that there is a greater demand for your coaching services than ever before as technology, travel, and off-road activities bring new people to running, cycling, and other sports and keep things fresh for existing athletes. Hopefully, the continuation of these trends will be demonstrated once 2023 data points become available.

Additional information on some 2023 findings:


Anderson, J. (2022, December 10). The State of Trail Running 2022. Retrieved from

Strava. (2022). Year in Sport 2022. Retrieved from

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About Phil White
Phil White is an Emmy-nominated writer and the co-author of The 17 Hour Fast with Dr. Frank Merritt, Waterman 2.0 with Kelly Starrettand Unplugged with Andy Galpin and Brian Mackenzie. Learn more at and follow Phil on Instagram @philwhitebooks.

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