Thursday 4 November 2021

20 years of the NEHL. Looking at participation levels.

 Hi Folks, Our thought for this season is: Just how big can we go?

Many of you, actually a massive majority, will have taken up cross country in the last ten years.  Our figures for participation took some massive leaps forward when the region and country as a whole were inspired by the London 2012 Olympics, and the introduction of parkrun to the region in 2009.  Many people who hadn't ran before took their first steps at parkrun, and some of these new runners have filtered through to join clubs.

There were always a great many unattached runners taking part in the regions road races, you just have to look at numbers in the Great North Run, and the Blaydon Race to see plenty of non club athletes, but they don't or rather; were not allowed to take part in track or cross country events.

This kept numbers in the NEHL relatively low by modern standards.  

I love a good graph.

So here is a great opportunity to chuck one out here.

Imagine you're standing in the start line at Wrekenton, or Lambton, or Druridge Bay in 2021.  If you're a man, you're one of an average of 519 other guys.  As a woman you're one in 420ish.

In the year 2000, if you stood on the start line at Bedewell Park in Jarrow you'd be standing with 24 other women, or 248 men.  

The improvement in numbers in the seniors since 2000 is staggering.  The juniors numbers remain pretty stable.

Average participation in NEHL fixtures by year 2000-2021

Participation has risen steadily, then absolutely sky rocketed in in 2013.  The orange line on the graph is average female turn out at an NEHL fixture, it actually mirrors men's participation levels pretty well.  We've had a bit of a dip following the loss of the 2020 season due to covid, but the numbers are climbing again.

Those are the average figures, there's a bit of variation fixture to fixture, the results from the last 13 years look more like this

Actual participation in NEHL Fixtures by individuals 2008-2021

and here's a view without the individual finishers here (it's a little easier to look at on a mobile)

Actual participation in NEHL Fixtures by individuals 2008-2021

You can see the trend upwards from 2008, peaking at Wrekenton in 2019 with 666 finishers in the men's race and 499 finishers in the women's race.  Yes they have dropped post-pandemic, but they are climbing again.

Here are the actual numbers for finishers by race venue from 2008

Participation by venue 2014-15 season to current season
Participation by venue 2008-09 season to 2013-14 season

So, how does that stack up versus numbers registered.  Well that has changed quite a lot.  It used to be that clubs paid a flat fee to enter their *whole* team, so it was £50 regardless of if you entered 30 runners, or 300 runners.  This meant that some larger clubs were entering everyone on the books to take part, regardless of whether they had any intention of taking part.  

This changed when the league started to charge by the individual.  So while it may have seemed initially that numbers were going to drop because of clubs having to pay, they numbers of people finishing actually continued to rise.

Total registered athletes vs total numbers of participants in the NEHL

Ok so yes, bare with me, it's a big chart.

It shows how many runners clubs registered, vs how many actually completed at least one race in the season (slightly less because the M65s who run the the SW race are not counted). The bottom part of the chart is the percentage of runners taking part who have been issued a race number.

We've hit over 80% participation for the first time ever (for the records we have) in the under 13 girls age category this season.  the figures in yellow are over 70% participation.  I would absolutely love us to hit over 70% in every category.  Can we do it?  Maybe.  

The key categories to look at improving turn out are the men and under 17&20 women.  Clubs - if you can get the guys who haven't yet ran a fixture to turn out for at least one, or better still two, it would be brilliant.  

More info you can pull from these numbers is just how many master's men and women are taking part in these fixtures.  There is a marked difference between the 20-35s and the 35+ runners.  We are living longer, and our running careers are lasting longer.  There are folks with running careers spanning the decades.  As it happens looking at our very first graph today:  both Fiona Shenton and Jan Young were on the start lines at Lambton last weekend, and at Bedewell in 2000, they build those Elvet ladies to last.  

You could also say, well, we have people coming through who are new to running, they don't have the wear and tear on their legs that the mega-mileage runners of the 90s had, but there are still a great number of those very runners still taking part.

So, can we still improve participation?


There's a massive untapped resource of folks running parkrun every weekend who would love to run cross country (honestly).  Everything from juniors through to masters, new runners, people who ran back in the day, people who have never ran before but who fancy a challenge.  Literally anyone who's ever ran Windy Nook parkrun lol,  a tough mudder, or a 10k trail race can do xc.

It's not just about quantity either, though of course my main aim is to get as many ladies turning out as the fellas, there are some fast people who could really benefit their local teams.

Your North Eastern Harrier League is either the largest or second largest league in the country depending on how you look at the numbers taking part (total number of fixtures etc), this is down to the clubs and the league working together to make these events brilliant and getting the word out to people that they can do it.

You can be a cross country runner.


Vicki Thompson

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