Racing from recession

So the country's gripped by economic turmoil, consumer confidence is at a 27-year low and jobs are disappearing faster than customers at car lots.

The federal government has conceded that it's headed back into deficit mode.

Things couldn't be worse — unless you're in the business of organizing running races, even at this time of year.

Take the annual Robbie Burns 8K race in Burlington, Ont., for instance. Held at the end of January, it usually features frigid temperatures and bone-rattling winds. Usually, you could wait until a few days before the race to decide whether the weather would be acceptable before you would commit your hard-earned dollars to run outdoors in the middle of winter.

Not this year. It sold more than the 800 allocated spaces by Jan. 3. It's the first time the race has sold out so early. There's even a waiting list.

The Chilly Half-Marathon — also in Burlington — has been sold out for weeks. That race is still two months away. And the oldest road race in North America — the Around the Bay 30K Road Race in Hamilton — is rapidly approaching sell-out status.

Recent races south of the border — even in areas hard-hit by recession — have reported significantly higher numbers of entrants than in previous years. Over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, Detroit's Turkey Trot reported an increase of 77 per cent in the number of participants over the previous year. Sacramento, Cal., hosted 5,700 runners for its Turkey Trot in 2007. Last November, close to 20,000 showed up.

Alan Brooks, director of the Canada Running Series of races across the country, says races are similar to the movies and other forms of entertainment.

"We're always told how movies boomed in the Depression of the 1930s, as a diversion from the grim realities of everyday life. Running is the fun part of people's lives. They may hate their jobs or have none, have a rotten social life, but their running and especially the races gives them a goal, purpose and joy."

You may have no say as you watch your retirement fund dwindle away, but you do when it comes to your fitness.

"Races are a life-experience achievement, and something you can control yourself while the world is falling, uncontrollably around your ears," Brooks said.

Brooks says pre-registrations for the races his company organizes in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are up an average of 44 per cent from this time last year.

There's a lot of competition out there for your fitness dollar — especially in January. Fitness clubs take advantage of your New Year's resolutions to lose weight and get fit by trying to sign you up as a member.

But when tougher economic times settle in, people tend to take a harder look at monthly expenses they can do without.

On the other hand, you can still keep your fitness promises by lacing on a pair of comfortable shoes and running — or walking — out the door.