March means it’s marathon time in the capital city.

Photography by Autumn Hall

 

March means it’s marathon time in the capital city.

Each year thousands converge downtown for “Arkansas’ Race for Every Pace.” Stretching over a weekend, marathon-related events include the 26.2-mile Little Rock Marathon and half marathon, a 10K (6.2 miles), a 5K and the Little Rockers Kids Marathon (more about the youth race later).

In 2013, after many years away from road races, I ran in the half-marathon, my first. I’ve been hooked ever since.

One thing I noticed when I got back into running events was there seemed to be more female participants than male. A little research supported this observation. For instance, last year’s Little Rock Marathon had 1,484 female participants, compared with 1,389 males. The differences were more striking in the half marathon — 3,078 females, 1,777 males — and the 10K — 1,136 females, 476 males.

Two items in the Fall 2015 issue of Club Running, published by the Road Runners Club of America, further confirmed my observation. In a column, Jean Knaack, the club’s executive director, wrote: “As running’s popularity continues to boom, the current trend leans toward hypermarketing to women whose growing participation in the sport outpaces that of men.”

An article analyzing the trend and its causes reported that almost 20 million Americans annually take part in road races. The number of male participants actually has increased, but not at the same pace as that of women. According to the article, in 2013 and 2014 women made up 57 percent of the finishers in running events. By contrast, women made up just 25 percent of race finishers in 1990.

The report recounted how that only a little more than 40 years ago, the Boston Marathon barred women from running and that just over 30 years ago, women could not compete in Olympic events longer than 1,500 meters.

However, Title IX of 1972, the federal legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in federally financed education programs, created a ripple effect that, along with a variety of factors, changed things in the 1990s.

Among the factors was Oprah Winfrey’s running in the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon. She subsequently appeared on the cover of Runner’s World magazine with this headline: “Oprah Did It, So Can You.” Other factors included women-only running events sponsored by such corporations like Nike and Disney.

Another article, a July 7, 2015, piece in U.S. News & World Report, also offered some reasons explaining running’s growing appeal with women. Among them were runners enjoying a sense of camaraderie, empowerment and completion instead of competition.

I can well remember when women were severely limited in athletic options, so I’m happy to see how things have changed, especially for future generations. Knaack stated in her column,  “As we look to the next generation of runners, it’s imperative that we engage and empower both boys and girls equally through gender-inclusive youth programs.”

And that brings us to the Little Rockers Kids Marathon. It’s a great, inclusive way for kids to be introduced to the joys and benefits of exercise. Its mission, stated on the marathon’s website, is to give first- through seventh-graders “the opportunity to enhance their physical activity (by following a fun, simple running and/or walking program) while focusing on reaching a goal. The hope is to motivate children to commit to a physical routine, which will allow them to experience the overall benefits of achieving their goals, not only when they cross the finish line, but in life as well.”

My daughter Abby took part in the program awhile back. During school recesses, she and schoolmates ran around a course on their playground, logging their distances. Eventually, each child logged 25.2 miles and then, the day before the marathon, ran the last mile of the racecourse, thus totaling a marathon distance. Crossing the finish line to the cheers of delighted supporters, each youngster received a medal.

Now 17, Abby devotes much of her free time to competitive dancing, not running, but she has fond memories of her time as a Little Rocker. One reminder of those days is a necklace adorned with 12 trinkets — plastic shapes of things like runners, feet and running shoes — rewards for passing various milestones.

The website reports that 15,800 children, representing every Arkansas county and 27 different states, have participated in the final mile of the Little Rockers Kids Marathon since 2004. That’s an impressive contribution.

Next month: More thoughts about running’s popularity among women from a Little Rock Marathon coach. Meanwhile, feel free to email sonnyrhodes@sbcglobal.net.


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