Women outnumbering men on race day

More females competing in Baltimore Running Festival than ever before

  • The Canton Club running team train for the half marathon at the upcoming Baltimore Running Festival.
The Canton Club running team train for the half marathon at the… (Colby Ware / For The Baltimore…)
October 12, 2012|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

Freedom Green is a full-time mom with four young children and a husband whose job has him working 20-hour days.

That is why she runs.

"There are times when I need to get away, so that I don't flip out," says Green, 40, of Owings Mills. "I don't want to pour that negative energy on my kids. Running is mom's multivitamin, a way to alleviate stress.

"Any day that I get to run, they [children] could be hanging from the chandelier in the front foyer, and I wouldn't care."

Of the 25,822 participants signed up for the Baltimore Running Festival's four prime races on Saturday, 61 percent are women, up from 44 percent in 2003. Women now outnumber men in the marathon (62 to 38 percent), half-marathon (59-41), 5K (65-35) and relay (62-38).

National studies back this trend of Jenny-come-latelies. A 2011 survey of nearly 12,000 respondents by Running USA showed that male runners had been into the sport for an average of 14.2 years; women, 9.9.

None of this surprises Lauren Urban, 25, a high school science teacher from Timonium who'll compete in her second half-marathon here.

"Distance running isn't as scary as it used to be," Urban said. "You see more and more bumper stickers that say "26.2" or "13.1" outside of grocery stores, or at church. The sport has become less elite — and more friendly. Now, it's more about finishing the race than about time. I'm not trying to beat a crowd of 5,000, I'm just trying to beat my best time."

Rachael Lindamer enjoys the fellowship of running with other women, after work. They meet at Canton Club, in South Baltimore, and head off en masse. To Lindamer, the exercise is like Facebook on foot.

That is why she runs.

"We run to be social," said Lindamer, 29, a speech language pathologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "We talk about our jobs, pets, diets, cross-training, stress and our good fortunes.

"I would not be a runner if it wasn't for Canton Club and the female running friends I have met there."

Too often, men run with a more competitive, cutthroat mindset, which could be why guys have fallen behind in the numbers game, said Bob Villanueva, who has run six Baltimore marathons and 30 overall.

"When I run with men friends, it can be a brutal affair. It's a race," said Villanueva, 39, a research administrator from Timonium. "Some guys want to run other guys into the ground.

"Women bring a different dynamic into the fold. Women runners empower other women. They're more supportive of each other in training. So many women's running groups have sprung up in the last five years that it's awesome."

Many women have embraced running for health reasons, said Minka Carter, 39, of Canton.

"Have you seen the statistics on the number of overweight black women in this country? It's horrible! Something like one in three is obese," said Carter, a nurse practitioner. In 2010, she started a local chapter of Black Girls Run, a national organization determined to kick diabetes' butt.

"We started training with 25 women of all sizes and a motto of 'No Runner Left Behind.' Everyone is cheered in, even on practice runs. Now, we have 150 members entered in Saturday's races," said Carter, who'll run the half-marathon herself.

It's an event she never would have tried growing up.

"In my day, the stereotypes for black women runners were sprinters like Wilma Rudolph or Florence Griffith-Joyner. You never thought distance was something a black woman could do," Carter said. "I think our group gives young girls new role models."

In her own way, Allison Kauffman said, she is doing the same. Now 40, and with three grade-school daughters in tow, she decided this year "to do something for myself and my body."

She will run the half-marathon, her first distance race since her cross-country days at Towson State.

"No offense to my family, but it was a relief to get out of the house [to train]," said Kauffman, of Selinsgrove, Pa. "To be honest, I felt guilty asking my husband, 'Can you watch the girls for an hour?' But he's supportive and, as I began enjoying it, I felt less selfish.

"I don't know if it's the Nike ads or the Olympics, but you see a lot more female athletes being celebrated these days, and I think more and more women my age are inspired to do something about it."

Others like Michel'le Stallworth gravitated to running — she'll do the 5K — after playing team sports.

"In other sports, if you screw something up, people talk about you behind your back," said Stallworth, 21, of Rosedale. "But in running, you can be the slowest one out there and people will still cheer you on to the finish."

In fact, you can walk the whole race and still get high-fives at the end, said Donna Shue, of Carlisle, Pa. For the second time, she and seven of her friends will walk the half-marathon, an accomplishment that took them 31/2 hours last year.

"We're ready. We're pumped up for this," Shue, 53, said. "We don't go to gyms and we'll never be on the cover of Shape Magazine, but we want to stay healthy. And [events such as this] are less intimidating now. It's a societal change. Walking 13.1 miles is a pretty darn good achievement for anyone, and it's such a great feeling to cross that finish line."

She wants others to know that too.

Said Shue: "When I wear my [running festival] shirt, people say, 'Oh, you're a runner?'

"I say, 'No, I'm a walker.' But I say it proudly."


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