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Strength in numbers: Women are hitting the road for footraces in record numbers

Doyle Woody
Magnolia Baki, almost 4, tags along with mom Jen Baki for a spin around the track following a Her Tern Half training group event Wednesday evening, July 17, 2013 at Central Middle School. Magnolia quickly decided the nearby Chugach Optional Elementary School playground looked like a better recreational option.
Erik Hill
Runners take to the track at the final Her Tern Half training group meeting Wednesday evening, July 17, 2013 at Central Middle School. The women were preparing for the Her Tern Half Marathon on Sunday, July 21, 2013.
Erik Hill
Runners learn pacing doing intervals at the final Her Tern Half training group meeting Wednesday evening, July 17, 2013 at the Central Middle School track. The women were preparing for the Her Tern Half Marathon on Sunday, July 21, 2013.
Erik Hill

Co-workers, besties and burgeoning runners, Rebecca Dawkins and Oma Gilmore of Anchorage will run their first 13.1-miler Sunday when they race in the inaugural Her Tern Half-Marathon for women.

There is some debate, and no shortage of finger-pointing, over who is to blame for this development.

"She was weird and crazy, and said, 'Let's do a half-marathon,' " Gilmore reported, complete with a full eye-roll.

"It was because of my crazy friend,'' Dawkins countered. "At first, we couldn't even run a mile. We were cursing and screaming.''

And so it goes for these friends, medical assistants who certainly keep pace with each other when it comes to handing out a hard time while training for their half-marathon debuts.

"I'm just there getting on her nerves and she's getting on my nerves,'' Dawkins joked. "If it's not me complaining about my (sore) legs, it's her complaining about cottonwood in her mouth or saying she's going to get heat stroke.''

Dawkins, 39, and Gilmore, 38, this summer have joined a women's running group organized by Skinny Raven, the Anchorage running store. The training group was designed to help neophytes prepare for the Her Tern Half-Marathon, named after the boutique that is the sister shop to Skinny Raven.

Banter and mock- indignation aside, Dawkins and Gimore are part of something bigger -- increasingly, women have overtaken the balance of power in terms of participation in road races in the U.S.

Running USA last year reported that females accounted for 55 percent of all road-race finishers in 2011, the last year for which full data is available. Women have come a long way -- in 1990, females accounted for 25 percent of finishers nationwide.

And in the Anchorage area, there is some evidence the balance has tipped even more. A Daily News survey of results from 10 mixed-gender footraces held in the last calendar year determined that 61.1 percent of finishers were women.

The continued increase in women's participation undoubtedly stems in large part from the continued effect of Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandated gender equity in federally-funded schools. Title IX opened up athletic opportunities for women of that era, and the ripple effect cascaded into subsequent generations of women. Also, there has been a societal emphasis on health and fitness, plus there has been a continued trend of both more footraces, and a variety of different races, offered nationally.

Skinny Raven's John Clark, the longtime racer and coach who oversees the training group that includes Dawkins and Gilmore, said in his experience women like to try new things in groups.

"Women are very inclusionary,'' Clark said. "They decide, 'Hey, let's do this,' and it pulls other women along.''

Both Dawkins and Gilmore lost substantial weight in the last year, when they often exercised together at a gym. They had walked the Alaska Run for Women, a five-miler, for a few years. To give themselves a goal, they decided to run the Run for Women this year -- Dawkins had to miss the event because of work, but Gilmore ran the whole five miles, and finished about 10 minutes faster than she expected. The next week, the friends ran the Color Run together.

Soon, they discovered the Her Tern Half-Marathon was coming up.

"It's a half-marathon?'' Dawkins remembers asking. "What's that?''

At 13.1 miles, they figured the once-a-week training group Skinny Raven advertised sounded like a plan.

"We thought, 'Hey, if they train us and we can go farther and go faster, let's go for it,' " Gilmore said.

The first training session proved a test.

"Oh, my God,'' Gilmore said. " 'This is hell on earth. I don't know why we're doing this.' Then, a few weeks later, I noticed I passed some of them up and I thought, 'Maybe this isn't unbearable.' "

Gilmore said running regularly had made her feel better and more motivated, and definitely aided her fitness. She feels like she's setting a good example for her two daughters. Dawkins said running has helped her asthma, made her feel better about herself, set a good example for her daughter, helped relieve stress and given her something she can control. And she said running outside in the summer has proved beneficial compared to running on a treadmill.

"When you're outside, there's no stopping,'' Dawkins said. "You have to keep going -- well, if you want to get home.''

Denise Brakora of Anchorage belongs to the same running group.

Brakora, 50, more than a year ago lost 40 pounds by changing her diet. In the spring of 2012, a neighbor enticed her to join a boot-camp workout group, which improved her fitness and has helped her shed 13 more pounds. She even ran some five-kilometer (3.1-mile) races last year.

Brakora said she has always harbored a desire to be a runner, for reasons she really can't explain. In any event, she long ago registered for the Her Tern Half-Marathon. When she signed up online, a pop-up window described the Skinny Raven training group, and she liked the idea of group support, getting coached and receiving feedback from coaches.

As part of her half-marathon training, Brakora ran the Twilight 12-K at the end of May and averaged 10 minutes per mile in the 7.4-miler, much better than she anticipated.

"I killed it,'' Brakora said. "I ran so much faster than I expected. I'd have been happy with 12s. I definitely feel like a runner, as opposed to someone learning to run.''

The Her Tern Half-Marathon, Clark said, is designed to be a "boutique, plush event.''

The entry fee is steep -- $110 for early registration -- but runners receive a hand-crafted bracelet, a race T-shirt, a $25 gift certificate, a branded champagne glass, a block party and fashion show the day before the race, and a post-race mimosa garden. About 650 women have registered for the event.

Serena Coons, 33, of Anchorage, who belongs to the training group, said she intends to take full advantage of all her preparation for the race.

"I know it will take me three hours, and I'm OK with that, because my goal is to finish,'' Coons said. "I'm going to run it and finish it. And then I'm going to have my drink. And then I'm probably going to fall over and go to sleep.''

As for Dawkins, she heads into the half-marathon incredulous, and stoked, that she has become a runner. She's even trying to talk her pal Gilmore into doing a triathlon next year.

"I would have never done this in my 20s,'' she said. "I'd think, 'Why do people run around when there's no reason to run?' Now look at me.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

Women are trending in road racing

In 2011, the last year for which national data is available, Running USA reported that 55 percent of road race finishers in the U.S. were women, continuing a trend of increased participation by women. In 1990, women represented just 25 percent of road-race finishers.

A survey of results from 10 mixed-gender road races in the Anchorage area in the last calendar year found women made up 61.1 percent of timed finishers.

RACE MALE
FINISHERS/PCT.
FEMALE FINISHERS/PCT.

Bear Paw 5-K 353 -- 34.1 percent 681 -- 65.9 percent

Mayor's Marathon, Half-Marathon, 4-Miler 1,290 -- 40.7 percent 1,876 -- 59.3 percent

Heart Run 5-K 616 -- 41.3 percent 874 -- 58.7 percent

Salmon Run 5-K/10-K 251 -- 41.1 percent 359 -- 58.9 percent

Trent/Waldron Half-Marathon 103 -- 43.8 percent 132 -- 56.2 percent

Faster Than A Falcon 5-K 249 -- 38.9 percent 391 -- 61.1 percent

*Alaska 10-K Classic 161 -- 41.7 percent 225 -- 58.3 percent

*Oktoberfest 5-K/10-K 152 -- 37.3 percent 256 -- 62.7 percent

*Zombie Half-Marathon 269 -- 38.0 percent 438 -- 62 percent

*Big Wild Life Runs
Marathon, Half-Marathon, 5K 708 -- 35.2 percent 1,301 -- 64.8 percent



TOTALS

4,152 -- 38.9 percent
6,533 -- 61.1 percent

*Denotes 2012 race


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com