Women’s Running Movement Taking Flight

By: Sheri Matthews

womens runningGirls weekend packing list. Swimsuit? Check. Running shoes? Check. Watch, compression socks, salt tablets, gels, high heels? Check.

Women are planning months in advance, putting in the work, logging the miles, packing their running gear for destination marathons, and they’re leaving the guys behind. This is all about them.

Women’s running has become even more of a mainstream phenomenon over last ten years and is here to stay, from young girls to elite runners and anyone in between. Katherine Switzer would be pleased. She will always be best known as the woman who, in 1967, challenged the all-male tradition of the Boston Marathon and became the first woman to officially enter and run the event. Her entry created an uproar and worldwide notoriety when a race official tried to forcibly remove her from the competition. Fast forward almost 50 years and now you can run a marathon specifically designed for, but not limited to women, read about it in women’s running magazines, blog  about it, and join women-only run clubs.

Newer to the scene of women’s tailored races is the Women’s Running Series, under the umbrella of Competitor Group who took over in 2012 (and also organizes the larger Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series). The Women’s Running Series is in four locations that are fun for women runners to make a weekend out of it. Originally starting in St. Petersburg, Florida, the races (half marathons and 5ks) are in San Diego, CA, Scottsdale, AZ, and Nashville, TN.

Cristine Frietze, event coordinator of the Women’s Running Series, said it’s a no pressure, all-inclusive weekend getaway. The expo is to pamper runners, treat them well, and even the finish line has a “freshen up lounge” where women can enjoy champagne, a cookie bar and even touch up their makeup.

“We want women these strong women to be able to freshen up before their finish photo,” Frietze said, who adds that participants receive a “huge, classy medal with two-in-one bling; a removable charm that can be worn as a necklace. It’s all about the bling!”

Encouraged by Cheri Brison (51), who had always struggled with her weight and had found running to be life changing, first-time runner April Campbell (53) completed the 2013 San Diego women’s half marathon and wouldn’t miss the next one on February 22, 2014 for anything.

“I fell in love with running,” Campbell said. “I smiled the whole course. (San Diego) is beautiful, and after the race we got a hotel, hot tubbed, enjoyed champagne, we made a stay-cation out of it.”

With over 30,000 runners selected by lottery, the Nike Women’s Marathon (and half) in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are two weekends full of female-friendly fun. There is everything from a ladies night to kick it off, to an Expotique (yes the expo is even fancy) with a mani-pedi bar. The kicker (pun intended) is the Tiffany finisher necklace handed out by tuxedo wearing firemen … with roses!

Kim Primerano (36), who has run over 15 marathons internationally, has run upwards of fifty marathons in all including multiple Boston Marathons and the aforementioned Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco.

“It’s like no other race, where fireman dressed in tuxedos hand you roses, and necklaces instead of medals – it’s very encouraging the entire course. Even the training runs are handled like race day, with massages, and water stations,” said Primerano.

Kim started a San Diego Chapter of Girls on the Run, a national non-profit organization dedicated to creating a world of confidence, positive and healthy lifestyles for girls age 8-16 through running. Meeting twice a week in small teams of 8-20 girls, they teach life skills through running games. To reach Girls on the Run in your neighborhood, or start a chapter, go here.

Elyse Braner (29), an event planner for a law firm in the metro D.C. area, has organized one of the most successful free run groups that starts out of Pacer’s Running store. While a decorated runner herself – she’s done over 18 Ragnar series, three of the last four Boston Marathons, and is training for her 10th Marathon in Rome soon — she loves the social aspect of running and has organized runs to raise money for her chapter of Girls on the Run, creating runners for life.  She has run the women’s running series races and says, “it’s not about being competitive, it does not feel like work, it’s fun!” Elyse gets out there with women and inspires while running, coaching, and encouraging.

Same goes for Live Free and Run Blogger  Colleen Woods Dahlem (32), a lifestyle runner and working wife and mom in the Washington D.C. area as well. In addition to her blogging, she’s also a group fitness instructor, donating her time to coaching a Girls on the Run group and inspiring followers in all things related to running, training and health. She loved the all-women’s race experience and said this to those getting into running: “Focus on being powerful and the best you can be. Don’t compare yourself to someone who is faster, skinnier, etc. Comparison is the thief of joy.  Find your (best) self through running.”

Even popular lifestyle brand lululemon has taken on the race scene, with a sold out half-marathon weekend in Vancouver, Canada, its headquarters city, called The SeaWheeze Half Marathon. Registration opens January 23 for the summer race and while men may register, it’s predominately female. It’s a welcoming, positive, all-inclusive event with sweet gear, training plans, aps, yoga and a concert.

Thanks to the ever-growing online women’s running movement, runners can keep connected through the Women’s Run Community , a Facebook page with 30k likes that encourages women to run, and Women’s races  will help you find your first, or next, race.

So grab your girls, pick a city, set a goal, and pack your running shoes and high heels. Cheers, ladies.

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