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Those enjoying a sedentary lifestyle are struggling to escape from reminders of their inactivity thanks to a proliferation of distance runners and the tokens of pride they like to flash.
Window decals, blasting the numbers 13.1, 26.2, and, gulp, 100.2, have become as common a site at stoplights as political stickers during an election year.
Race t-shirts, some which are curiously stained with paint, remind us we recently got rid of tops that we, um, outgrew. Even glow sticks, items synonymous with the nontraditional crowd, have started to taunt our indolence.
Statistical and empirical evidence show the popularity of running cranked high, with both traditional and themed races popping up and reaching participants beyond the classical fitness buff.
Reflecting the craze is tomorrow’s Medical Mutual Glass City Marathon, which has grown by nearly 6,000 participants in five years.
The popularity of racing is reflected most in females, who will make up about 60 percent of tomorrow’s field, and in half marathons.
The 13.1-mile race has never been more popular, according to a study released last month by Running USA. For seven straight years ending in 2012, the number of U.S. half-marathon finishers has grown by 10 percent or more each year.
An estimated 1.85 million Americans finished a half marathon last year, a 14.9 percent increase from 2011, and 60 percent were women. Thirty inaugural half marathons sprouted in 2012.
The Glass City Marathon started a half marathon five years ago and has sold out every year, race director Clint McCormick said.
“More people are conscious now of health,” McCormick said. “They say, how do I get healthy? I’m going to sign up and commit to this half marathon.”
Half marathons are in vogue, McCormick believes, because “they don’t take as long to train for.” A full 26.2-mile marathon requires anywhere from six to nine months of preparation, and the typical athlete can run only one per year.
Other alternatives exist to draw a less fanatical crowd. The Color Run and the Glow Run, five-kilometer, un-timed races, have benefited from the running boom. Matt Folk, the general manager at Second Sole of Toledo, views these events as nonthreatening to purists and maybe as a breeding ground for more distinguished races.
“It’s good for the sport,” said Folk, a three-time Glass City Marathon winner. “It introduces new people to the sport that don’t normally do it. Maybe they do a color run and have a great experience and they say, let’s build up to a half marathon.”
For others, a half marathon, or even a marathon, is no longer challenging. They then might graduate to an ultra marathon, which is any race longer than 26.2 miles. UltraRunning Magazine reported that the number of runners who finished ultra-length trail races increased from 15,500 in 1998 to 52,000 in 2011.
The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which started in 1974, claims the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. It begins in Squaw Valley, Calif., near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and ends 100.2 miles later in Auburn, Calif.
John Trent, president of the Western States board of trustees, is a 10-time finisher of the race. He says some participants are former marathon runners seeking something new, maybe because their marathon finish times have worsened. Others are in their early 20s and "not waiting to slow down."
“When I’m driving on the interstate and I see a 100.2 sticker, I say, that’s a pretty decent runner in the car next to me,” Trent said. “It’s silly, but I think it’s part of the way we all define ourselves in running.”