Today's runner is as likely to be a woman as a man. While a man's reason for running may be simple to define — health, competition, getting in touch with the primal self — women's motivations often are more complex.
"Women's running has evolved," says Dagny Scott Barrios, author of The Runner's World Complete Book of Women's Running.
Women of all ages and running abilities meet outside of Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland each Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., rain or shine (except holidays). Runs last for up to one hour on trails in Lithia Park.
"It's for all levels; no one is too slow; no one will be left behind. Sometimes we run together; sometimes we break into groups. We're looking for more runners," says Maria Clementi, the group's leader. Call Clementi at 928-380-2615 for more information.
The key, says Barrios, is understanding who you are. "What motivates you? Do you need alone time? Are you social? Running doesn't have to be solitary."
For Felicia Hazel of Talent, running is an exercise in multitasking. When her oldest daughter was an infant, Hazel pushed her in a stroller on the Bear Creek Greenway. This allowed Hazel more time with her running friends and got her out of the house. They often met at a coffee shop after the run to socialize. Her daughter is in college now, but the group runs continue.
"I like the camaraderie — I run with friends. And running keeps me healthier and more focused. I run almost every day, and this keeps me feeling better," says Hazel, 45.
Hazel's two daughters are following in her footsteps.
Her older daughter ran cross-country at Ashland High School and her 11-year-old has already run in the Talent Harvest Festival 5K road race, an event for which Hazel has served as race director for several years.
"Running is something they can carry with them through life; you can run anywhere you go," says Hazel.
The solitude of running alone in nature appeals to other women.
"I prefer to run alone," says Carly Varner, a 28-year-old Ashland runner who prefers to run on trails. "Physically, I'm a little calmer when I run by myself — I can focus on where I am. I don't have a super-competitive streak."
Varner started running five years ago when she worked as a graphic designer for the shoe company, Montrail. Many of her new friends were runners, and she finally jumped in.
"I started out on the treadmill and could hardly do three miles — it was boring. Then I started running trails and doing more: five miles, then 10 miles. It's kind of a love-hate thing. Some days I look forward to running; some days it can be more of a task," Varner admits.
The social aspect of running has rubbed off on Varner in an unusual way.
Many of her friends are ultramarathoners. A few years ago, she ran her first 31-mile ultramarathon and has run many more since.
"I wanted to see what I could do next; how far can I go? It started out as 'Can I do this?' " Varner explains.
She put her resolve to the ultimate test in September when she and her boyfriend flew to Utah to compete in the Wasatch Front 100-mile endurance run. Varner accomplished the feat, finishing in 32 hours, 38 minutes, 28 seconds.
Women are running in greater numbers, longer in life and, like Varner, for longer distances.
According to Katie Neitz, senior editor at Runner's World, 49 percent of all half-marathon finishers in 2002 were women. In 2008, that percentage jumped to 56 percent. The average age of women runners in races in 1980 was 31. In 2005 that number rose to 35.
Regardless of whether you ever enter a race, the simplicity and low cost of running can be appealing. To get started, all you need is a pair of good running shoes and a comfortable sports bra.
When you shop for shoes, don't make the mistake of buying men's running shoes.
"Women typically have narrower heels than men, so your heel may slip if you wear men's shoes. There are new technologies out there now — companies are making more gender-specific shoes," says Nicki Wright, co-owner of Competitive Athletics in Grants Pass, and a marathoner herself.
Knowing when to toss the old shoes is as important as a proper fit in preventing injuries.
"When your legs start to hurt, you know it's time to change shoes. The shoes we sell are usually good for 350 to 400 miles," Wright advises.
"It never hurts to get a physical before getting back into running, especially if you're overweight or have a family history of heart attacks, strokes or high cholesterol. Or if you're a smoker," says Dr. Doug Naverson, a Medford dermatologist and lifelong runner.
To get started, it's often more comfortable to alternate running with walking. After all, there are no rules, no measuring sticks. Run however far and fast feels good. Running is meant to be fun.