Running had its first boom in the 70s and has been making quite the comeback in the past few years. Running USA estimates that 507,000 people finished marathons in 2010, and, since 2003, the half marathon has been the fastest growing road race distance in the United States, with more than 1.1 million finishers in 2009. That means that close to two million people will run a race that's at least 13.1 miles this year, not including the hundreds of miles they will log during training.
Most people run races not necessarily to win, but to set a personal best, or sometimes just to finish—all you need is a good pair of shoes and determination. Plus, now you can find a race anywhere, from Charleston to Boston to San Antonio, several of which have become more than just a race. Bands play along the way of the Rock 'n' Roll series, which has 23 "tour stops," and you'll see characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse at the Walt Disney World Marathon.
On February 9, 2011, I made up my mind that I would finally mark off a half marathon. I had wanted to do one for years, but just never had the time or maybe the guts. Thirteen-plus miles seemed like a long way to run, but an opportunity came across my desk to run in the Inaugural Run For The Dream Half Marathonin Williamsburg, Virginia, that supports the Wounded Warriors program. I took the offer and ran with it (literally).
After training for months, my husband and I headed to Williamsburg for the race weekend in May. We stayed in Colonial Williamsburg at The Williamsburg Lodge, a luxurious, folk-art inspired hotel with a modern twist. On Friday night we chowed down on crab legs and to-die-for scallops. On Saturday we explored The College of William and Mary and the historical sites of Williamsburg, like the Capitol building and the Governor's Palace.
I got up early on Sunday, downed a banana, and put on my ultra-cool Salomon running gear sent from the reps. When I got to the start area, I knew I could do it. I was just going on a run with my 2,253 new friends for the next few hours. The start gun fired and we ran our way down the main street of Williamsburg, by horses, down gravel roads, up a few hills, and by the marsh before finishing our race in the stadium at The College of William and Mary. I crossed the finish line with a time of two hours, 20 minutes, and 51 seconds. It felt good. It was a great course, I had mentally pushed through, and it was a huge personal accomplishment.
Training for anything takes time, but if you so desire, pick out a race (whether it's a 1k or an ultra marathon) somewhere fun (make a vacation out of it), sign-up, consult a professional (or just Google a training plan), lace up those shoes, and start running. It can be a thrilling experience, whether you're a believer afterwards or not.
Here are some of the most unique upcoming races to get your wheels turning and your feet spinning:
September 10, 2011
This 26.2-mile course starts in Interlaken, Switzerland, and climbs uphill nearly the entire way. Your reward? A steep downhill the last mile of the course.
Held in different cities throughout the United States and Canada year-round
The brains behind the Warrior Dash describe it as a "mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extreme run from hell." After completing a series of obstacles over a grueling course, participants are rewarded with a warrior hat, beer, and live music.
The ING New York City Marathon
November 6, 2011
This course winds 26.2 miles through five New York boroughs, drawing more than 100,000 participants annually.
North Pole Marathon
April 7, 2012
Sub-zero temperatures, just a few feet between you and the Arctic Ocean, 26.2 miles of terrain in one of the most remote places on earth; that's the North Pole Marathon. Need more bragging rights? The Marathon Grand Slam Club welcomes only the elite few who have completed a full marathon on each of the seven continents, including the North Pole Marathon.
Disney Wine & Dine
October 11, 2011
Disney's half marathon weaves through three theme parks of Orlando's Walt Disney World Resort. At the finish line, characters greet you with a beer or glass of wine, which you can carry into the Finish Line Party where additional food and beverages await.
Athens Classic Marathon
November 13, 2011
Back in BC, legend has it that the Greeks defeated the Persians with overwhelming odds in the village of Marathon. Phidippides, an Athenian messenger, ran 24 miles to Athens in order to deliver the delightful news. This marathon is held in celebration of his feat.
Photo Credit: Warrior Dash (Dan Dee Shots/Flickr)
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