After running from Madison to Stoughton 29 times, I have experienced the rise in numbers and the decline. I would agree that much of the decline in performance is due to the changing landscape of running in the U.S. We have become a society of participants with few caring about performance, but many caring about completing the distance regardless of the time required.
I don't really think this problematic. It's great that folks are out doing something. But as someone who has tried to “race” for many years, it's a bit disheartening to watch the decline in performances. This is not specific to Syttende Mai. 25 years ago if you had 1000 runners in a marathon, 300 would crack the 3 hour mark. Now you might need 10,000 to come up with 300 sub-3 hour performances.
From what I have observed, most runners are unwilling and uninterested in training hard enough to truly excell at racing. This, I think, is too bad. They are however willing to train hard enough to complete an event and to hopefully stay in good health. This is a good thing. Another factor is the increase in triathlons. Many of the top age group athletes are competing in tri's. For those of us who have to work for a living, there are only so many hours we can dedicate to training in a week.
Nationally, the number of runners completing races has increased a bit over the last 5 years. Most of this growth has come in the 5K. It's a distance that is within reach of many runners. The amount of time needed to train for a 5K is not intimidating. S.M. at 20 rolling miles requires a more concentrated training effort. The Madison Marathon on the following weekend most certainly bites into the numbers. It would be nice to see some more younger runners at S.M. There are not too many folks left from the days when I was running this for the first few times. Ideas?