They are the “crazies,” the social butterflies and the gardeners. Some have never been athletes before. But they are also the women who make up 62 percent of this weekend’s Rock ’n’ Roll Seattle Marathon and Half-Marathon field.
Females dominate the event, which includes more than 18,000 participants and is set to begin 7 a.m. Saturday at Seattle Center.
It’s a phenomenon that continues to happen across the country, and more so in fitness-focused cities like Seattle, and with family fun-oriented events like the Rock ’n’ Roll series.
Women will make up 65 percent of the half-marathon field and 47 percent of the full marathon field. But the popular half marathon is 75 percent of the total field.
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“Back in the ’80s, that was a very male-centric running boom that emphasized competition,” said Ryan Lamppa with Running USA. “The second running boom, which started in 1994, is female-centric and the emphasis is on completion, health and fitness.”
Groups that emphasize community support and steady progress have helped more women get involved. Team in Training is one organization that helps first-time athletes (many of them female) train for a marathon-style event.
Cathy Surerus, 61, and her daughter, Heather Surerus-Lopez, 41, were two women who never expected to train for a half-marathon, but became involved with Team in Training after watching the 2013 event.
“There were 79-year-old women from Spokane finishing, so Heather turned and said, ‘We should do this,’ ” Surerus said. “I’ve never been a runner. We bought the tickets early, so I still had a year that I could fight and get out of doing this.”
Surerus never “got out of” training. What she did get was in shape. Before starting her five-day-a-week regimen with Team in Training, the most physical activity Surerus did was gardening. She has lost 30 pounds (to match her daughter’s weight loss) and plans to cross her first finish line on Saturday.
She will do so with 53 female teammates who have helped raise $121,000 locally for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Surerus was close with a co-worker’s son, Patrick Connelly, who died in his mid-20s of cancer. His memory serves as inspiration.
Some women don’t have a charity-specific reason to participate. Their goal is simply finishing — a common motivation, according to Lamppa.
Take Karen Stewart: For four years after receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1996, she lost mobility and balance. Then, she read about a 250-pound woman planning to walk the Portland Marathon.
“I called my husband right then and said, ‘I’m going to walk a marathon,’ ” Stewart said. “He said: ‘Are you crazy? I’m pushing you around in a wheelchair and now you’re going to do this?’ ”
Stewart has completed 67 half- and full marathons since then. Saturday will be her sixth Rock ’n’ Roll Seattle — a race she loves because of Seattle’s “beautiful” downtown area, friendly people and the music from live bands that distracts her from her aching legs.
The music and family atmosphere associated with Rock ’n’ Roll events have been a springboard for female participation.
“This second running boom focuses more on fun, instead of competition, so women get involved,” Lamppa said. “Seattle is a running and fitness city, so having the city embrace running, and then having women tell one or two or 20 of their friends — that’s all part of it.”