Issue No. 146: The Endurance Economy

Illustration: Courtney Powell

During the pandemic, running and cycling were the perfect socially distant activities. On the other side, the endurance economy could reach new heights.

Going the Distance

In 2020, participation rates for running and bicycling in the US ticked up, topping 63M and 52M people, respectively. A year unlike any other, would-be gym-goers and amateur endurance athletes logged more miles than ever.

  • Between March and September of last year, data from Fitbit, Garmin, and MapMyRun showed increased activity levels, as runners logged 22%, 31%, and 68% more miles, respectively.
  • For their part, runners on Strava recorded 1.9B miles for the year. And cyclists pedaled through the pandemic, with Strava users biking more than 8B miles globally.

As interest grows, equipment suppliers are struggling to meet demand and endurance tech startups are scaling up.

Biking boom. In the 12 months ending April 2021, bicycle sales were up 57% YoY, reaching $6.5B. While recreational bikes sold out, high-end rigs also flew off the shelves.

In June of last year, performance bike prices above $1,000 saw tremendous growth, with gravel bikes (+144%), full-suspension mountain bikes (+92%), and road bikes (+87%) leading the way. At the same time, considered essential gear for serious cyclists, indoor trainer sales grew by 250%.

Eyeing an opportunity, while bike shops desperately try to keep up, direct-to-consumer (DTC) and used bike sellers are moving in.

Last year, DTC bike brand Canyon was acquired by Belgium-based investment firm Groupe Bruxelles Lambert in a deal near $1B. Canyon recently reported a 30% increase in fiscal year revenue, attaining $490M.

Elsewhere, pre-owned bike seller The Pro’s Closet added $40M in funding to expand its marketplace. Ramping up its “ready to ride” delivery service, Kitzuma Cycling Logistics brought on new capital.

Running wild. Prior to the pandemic, there was a running recession — at least as far as organized races go.

In 2013, races across the country counted a record 19M runners crossing the finish line. By 2019, that number dipped to 17.6M.

During peak COVID, in-person events were off-limits, but runners still put their training to the test in virtual or solo races. And plenty of new runners got in on the action.

  • In 2020, MapMyRun saw a 65% increase in runs logged.
  • In the US, as many as 7M new runners hit the pavement last year.
  • Last year, 55% of Strava users hit a new PR in solo 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon efforts.

More than the total number of runners or newcomers lacing up, where folks are running is worth noting. Around the world, off-road and long-distance races are becoming increasingly popular.

Over the last decade, trail running has grown 12% YoY, reaching 20M participants worldwide. According to the International Trail Running Association, between 2013 and 2019, there were more than 25K races in 195 countries hosting nearly 2M competitors.

Likewise, worldwide participation in ultra-marathon is up 345% since 2010, with 611K race entrants in 2018.

Racing’s Return

After being sidelined in 2020, endurance events are plotting a comeback.

According to the Endurance Sports Coalition, more than 50K events, attracting some 30M Americans, were canceled through early 2021. As a result, race organizers were set to lose $3B in revenue.

Undeterred (for now), the largest US marathons—including Boston, New York City, and Chicago—are set to return this fall. The same goes for leading cycling events and triathlons.

But road racing is just the beginning. As the popularity of off-road running and cycling grows, race organizers are seizing the opportunity.

  • IRONMAN partnered with Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc for a trail running event series.
  • IRONMAN pushed further into road and gravel cycling, acquiring Haute Route and Gravel Epic.
  • Life Time, a gym operator that also produces endurance events, acquired the Sea Otter Classic cycling festival, adding to a portfolio that includes UNBOUND Gravel and Leadville’s off-road race series.

On the flip side, as in-person events return, digital platforms like Zwift think virtual races are the future. With more than $620M in venture funding, the indoor running and cycling company hopes to make virtual racing an Olympic sport.

Endurance Tech

Catering to runners and cyclists, startups are tapping into the growing market of endurance athletes.

Just how big of a market is it? As Strava co-founder Mark Gainey put it, “If you sweat, you’re an athlete.” By that definition, the company places its addressable market around 700M people.

Beyond scale alone, endurance consumers tend to be big spenders.

Upwards of 50% of runners earn more than $100K/year and more than 25% exceed $150K/year. Among triathletes, the average income is $126K/year, while the annual household income of IRONMAN participants averages $247K.

Highlighting tech-focused cycling companies like Zwift, Wahoo Fitness, ROUVEY, and RGT Cycling, we recently wrote a primer on cycling tech. But as endurance intersects with broader trends in digital fitness and the rise of the quantified athlete, the category is much more expansive.

TrainingPeaks is an all-in-one endurance platform, but TrainerRoad, FasCat Coaching, and others offer different takes on coaching and performance tracking.

Newcomers to the space are also targeting endurance athletes. JOINPillar, and enduco have created AI-powered training programs. Apps like The Breakaway are focused on improving cycling performance. And Kollektiv is building a triathlon-specific training platform.

For runners, VALR offers a personalized training app. And has training plans and coaching for trail and ultra runners.

Tapping into community, ProkitPreemgthr, and Relive hope to become the future of Social+ Fitness. A different approach, Cadoo lets users bet on workouts, including running challenges, while Any Distance is a place to track and share your run.

Taking on injury prevention, Recover Athletics* is building a prehab and recovery app for endurance athletes. And The Feed has found success in curating nutritional supplements and recovery gear for the endurance crowd.

Looking ahead: Far from an exhaustive list, the growing number of companies geared toward a thriving market of endurance athletes will expand the category going forward.

For now, it remains to be seen whether or not the pandemic participation boom will translate to in-person race registration. As digital training catches on, not dissimilar from gyms/at-home fitness, it will be interesting to see how omnichannel endurance shapes up.

*Fitt Insider is an investor in Recover Athletics. We invest in early-stage health, fitness, and wellness companies. Learn more and get in touch here

🍎 Personalizing Nutrition

Ultra-processed foods are killing us. But nutrition advice is a mixed bag. While replacing junk food with real food is a start, eating well isn’t that simple.

On the Fitt Insider podcast: ZOE co-founder and CEO Jonathan Wolf joined us to discuss the microbiome, at-home test kits, and the company’s personalized nutrition protocol.

We also cover: the benefits and challenges of a direct-to-consumer model versus seeking FDA approval for companies in the health diagnostic or wearables space.

Listen to today’s episode here

💡 Crypto x Healthcare

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have revolutionized the entertainment industry and the art world. Next up, NFTs might help reform a major problem in healthcare.

What it is: A non-fungible token is a digital asset that is unique and non-interchangeable, a sort of passport that marks something as one-of-a-kind.

As a certificate of authenticity, NFTs can be tokenized and tracked, and many think they can help healthcare reform its management of patient data.

Talk data to me. Currently, sensitive patient health data is scattered across platforms and notoriously difficult for important operators to access.

  • Over $1.2B clinical documents are produced in the US every year, yet 80% of that data is unstructured or locked away.
  • Americans spend over $750B each year on unnecessary treatments, many of which stem from misdiagnosis, or redundant treatment due to poor data management.

Karly Rowe, VP at Experian Health, describes the worrying state of patient data tracking:

“Many healthcare organizations still don’t have a comprehensive patient identity management strategy in place… [even while] inaccurate or incomplete patient information poses serious, even fatal, risks to patients.”

Additionally, as wearables, at-home workout equipment, and other tracking devices gain popularity, many question how to harness health data efficiently while managing it responsibly.

Seeing an opportunity, entrepreneurs are leveraging NFTs as a way to decentralize data collection, optimize access, and give patients back control of their health records.

  • Aimedis, an in-house NFT marketplace, allows patients to process their data as NFTs and easily forward it to their doctor, dentist, or physiotherapist.
  • Enjin partnered with digital platform Health Hero in June to create Go!, where users can create a “Well-being NFT”, or W-NFT, unique to their health and activity characteristics.
  • RightsHash, a decentralized software engine, aims to track and manage patient consent for clinical trials.

In other news, blood donation organizations are encouraging donors to tokenize their blood, while recent vaccine scandals highlight the need to verify against counterfeit medication and other drugs.

Looking ahead: NFTs have been around for less than a decade but, while the technology is far from mature, its potential applications are endless.

As innovation continues, consulting firm Deloitte predicts that blockchain technology could transform healthcare by placing patients “at the center of the healthcare ecosystem… increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of health data.”

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🚽 Smart Toilets?

From glucose monitoring to smart rings, health tracking is having a moment. Now, as this trend reaches the bathroom, startups are asking you to take a squat.

Playing catch-up. Americans are visiting the doctor less and less. Meanwhile, bad health habits and late disease diagnoses cost us over $3.8T in annual healthcare spending.

  • Nearly 40% of adults suffer from a functional gastrointestinal disorder.
  • Colorectal cancer has doubled in the last three decades among adults under 50.
  • Over a third of Americans have metabolic syndrome, and that number is rising.

Leaning into preventative care, scientists want to bring the lab to your bathroom, a place we visit every day.

Drop a deuce. Researchers and startups alike are building smart toilets that can analyze your excretions, identifying biomarkers that help you stay one stool ahead of prostate problems, metabolic disorders, and cancer.

Using sensors and video cameras to detect factors like flow rate and texture, smart toilets can provide insights even beyond the scope of wearables.

The smart toilet market is expected to clear $7B by 2027, and startups like Casana ($14M) and OutSense ($2M) are flush with funds.

Let it mellow. Those who don’t like the idea of sharing their “analprint” with the cloud can instead use at-home urine and stool testing kits.

  • Vessel secured $14.5M in early 2021 to help test different biomarkers in urine, scoring “low,” “good,” or “high” ratings after users pee on a card.
  • Dieta Health just raised $1.2M to develop its stool image recognition technology, allowing users to track and analyze bowel movements with their smartphone.
  • ZOE raised a $20M Series B this May for an at-home stool test used to inform personalized nutrition.

Next up, incumbent and Big Tech companies aren’t ones to pass up a billion-dollar opportunity. Google secured a patent in 2018 for a smart toilet that can measure blood pressure, while industry giant TOTO unveiled plans for a “Wellness Toilet” earlier this year.

Punchline: Health tracking tech is evolving to be increasingly precise and prevalent. As the trend continues, Vikram Kashyap, founder of smart toilet startup Toi Labs, predicts a future where “people [are] going to become their own managers of their health.”

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📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Fitness wearable WHOOP raised $200M in new funding, valuing the company at $3.6B.
    On the pod: Our interview with WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed 
  • Smart mattress maker Eight Sleep secured $86M in Series C funding.
    On the pod: Our interview with Eight Sleep CEO Matteo Franceschetti
  • Calibrate, a digital metabolic health startup, raised $100M in a Series B round.
  • DTC oral healthcare company quip secured $100M in a Series B funding round.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Rise of DTC Dentistry
  • Alma, a membership-based network for mental healthcare providers, landed $50M in Series C funding.
  • Poppi, makers of a prebiotic soda, closed a $13.5M funding round led by CAVU Venture Partners.
    On the pod: 
    Our interview with CAVU Venture Partners co-founder Brett Thomas 
  • China-based connected bike maker freebeat landed a $20M strategic investment.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Connected Fitness Report
  • Kreatures of Habit, makers of better-for-you oatmeal, raised $2.2M from Gary Vaynerchuk and others.
  • Functional coffee and beverage brand Taika added $2.2M in a seed round led by Obvious Ventures.
  • Heads Up Health, a health data analytics company, added $2.25M in seed funding.
  • Flip, an ecommerce platform curating vlog-style customer reviews for beauty and wellness products, raised $28M in a Series A round.
  • Rupa Health, a lab testing concierge, pulled in $5.8M in a seed round led by First Round Capital, with participation from DJ duo The Chainsmokers and actor Jared Leto.
  • Olive, a healthcare automation company, launched an in-house venture studio to support early-stage founders and entrepreneurs in digital health.
  • Venture firm Supermoon Capital launched a debut $36M fund deploying funds into early-stage sleep-tech startups.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Billion-Dollar Business of Sleep
  • Food tech-focused venture firm AgFunder closed its alternative protein fund, New Carnivore, after receiving investments from ADM Ventures and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony and Joe Vennare, Melody Song, Kelly Byrne, and Ryan Deer.

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