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Running Races Return, and That’s Good News for Sports Brands

Race officials confirmed this week that one of New York City’s most storied running events will return this fall.

Canceled last year due to the pandemic, the Empire State Building Run-Up (ESBRU) will return Oct. 26. Approximately 125 runners will compete in the 43-year-old tradition, racing up 1,576 steps and 86 floors to the viewing deck of what was once the tallest building in the world.

This year will mark the Swiss running brand On’s first time contributing to the event. The recent New York City arrival—it opened its first retail store in December less than two miles away—will participate “with a designated heat of running enthusiasts and influencers from around the country,” the Empire State Realty Trust said.

The niche sport of tower running dates back to 1905, when 283 runners, cyclists and other athletes bounded up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. It debuted in the U.S. more than seven decades later when the runner Fred Lebow organized the first-ever ESBRU. The race has been held every year since, except in 2020.

Participation in the bucket-list race is decided by a random lottery, with those selected for last year’s race able to claim their spot this year. NYCRuns will allow interested runners to enter the lottery between June 1-30 for a chance at any vacant spots. Participation in the event costs $125 per person.

Challenged Athletes Foundation will once again be the race’s official charity partner, with a designated heat for challenged athletes. Turkish Airlines will return for its third year as presenting sponsor of the Run-Up. NYCRuns, an organization behind more than two dozen other local races, will produce the running event.

The return of the ESBRU comes as some of running’s largest events, which typically spotlight major athletic brands, try to figure out how to navigate this new stage of the pandemic. While most do not face the added wrinkle of running indoors, some have decided to limit field sizes, meaning a second straight year without races for a number of runners.

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Another race founded by Lebow—the TCS New York City Marathon—made such a pronouncement last week. The New York Road Runners (NYRR) plans to hold the event on its typical date—the first Sunday of November—with a field size of 33,000. By comparison, 53,627 participants finished the 2019 marathon. To participate, NYRR said entrants should be prepared to provide a negative Covid-19 result or proof of full vaccination.

Meanwhile, the country’s second largest marathon, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which counts Nike as a sponsor, is saying its field size this October will be in line with past years. With Adidas cited as an official apparel sponsor, the Boston Marathon, though its in-person field size is expected to be around 20,000—about two-thirds of where it has been in recent years—plans to host a virtual field size of 70,000.

Running footwear has, of course, flourished amid the pandemic, with brands like On, Hoka One One and Brooks Running seeing particular success. According to data from the NPD Group, performance running grew in the low teens during the first quarter.

If a new study from RunRepeat is any indication, these Covid-era runners may be less impacted by the return of racing—and hiccups from any further delays or cancellations. According to research the athletic footwear review site recently released, half of so-called “new-pandemic runners”—29 percent of the current running population—plan on participating in a race in the next 12 months, compared to 63 percent of pre-pandemic runners. Of those planning on racing, 85 percent of pre-pandemic runners plan on doing so in person, versus 68 percent of new runners. New-pandemic runners are also 35 percent less likely to say they run for competition or achievement.