GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kym Dantuma Matthews started running nearly 30 years ago at the suggestion of a friend.

She started with a 5K and finished in about 24 minutes, which she didn’t realize was a really good time. It has since become a passion and even a therapy.

“It is about the community. I think you’ll not find a more positive group of people,” Matthews said.

She had just finished a 25K distance in less than two hours and was ready to be a part of that “two-hour club” at the 2020 Riverbank Run when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the race.

Now, as big events return to their typical dates with in-person options, race organizers have found fewer people are signing up. Race directors for the upcoming SHE RUNS Grand Rapids and the Amway Riverbank Run said they are currently at about 60% of what their registrations were for 2019.

According to Anthony Wolbert, a Master Track Official with USA Track and Field, race participation in this country hit its peak in 2016 and slowly started to decline in the following years.

“When the pandemic hit, you’ll look at data from places like Garmin showing people just being more active individually…so it’s interesting to see numbers per race are down a little,” he said.

But Wolbert thinks the numbers are misleading. When races were canceled in 2020, organizers allowed participants to carry their registration over to the next race. 

Matthews is one of those participants who will use her 2020 registration this spring, at the Riverbank Run. She didn’t run the race in the fall, which was the rescheduled date for 2021.

“The Grand Rapids Marathon is right there, a week away. And for me, I do like to run competitively and at my age, I didn’t think I could run them both my best,” she said as to why she chose not to participate in October.

A recent injury will keep her from trying to finish in any specific time, but she plans to tackle the 25K regardless.

“I think I’m going to stop every three miles, do a little live broadcast of some mental health stats and maybe try to raise some money for a mental health agency,” she said.

Wolbert said recreational runners may have fallen out of the fold of these events when they went virtual, which contributed to the lower numbers.

“They might think ‘this looks like a fun atmosphere, I want to go be a part of this’. We definitely lost a lot of those,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful that registration numbers will start to stabilize in the fall and will reflect pre-pandemic numbers.

SHE RUNS will happen May 1 in Grand Rapids, with Riverbank Run following about two weeks later, on May 14. Registration is still open for both events; the price to enter the Riverbank Run will go up on May 1. 

To register for the SHE RUNS race, click here. To register for the Amway River Bank Run, click here.