Registration for Saturday’s race in Anniston shows women ahead of men, 54 percent to 46 — numbers that “almost flip-flop what they were just a few years ago,” according to race director Brooke Nelson.
That trend runs step for step with trends in Anniston Runners Club membership and the sport of running nationally.
So what gives?
“We’ve got so many people who, at 40 years old, the kids are growing up and driving off to their own ball practices,” said Mercy Pilkington, women’s running director for the Anniston Runners Club. “Women are finding themselves with time and starting to run.”
Pilkington is helping the ARC pull those women into running with the club and in its events, like the Woodstock.
She took over as women’s racing director in 2009, five years after she began running. Then 31 and with two children, she started running partly as a means to lose weight.
She started running in the dark — literally and figuratively.
“I remember not having any direction and running in the dark because I was afraid people would see me,” she said.
She frequently emailed Nelson and other established female runners with what she called “completely insane questions.”
When the ARC’s women’s running director stepped aside, Pilkington saw an opportunity to help new female runners. She eagerly pursued the post and started a twice-a-week newsletter, which she emails to the ARC’s female members.
It’s very much the newsletter Pilkington would love to have had when she started running. Among other things, it advertises used jogging strollers, and Pilkington wrote a consumer-oriented column on jogging strollers.
In each newsletter, she’ll also address one serious question and one “crazy” question.
“What do you do when you need to go to the bathroom, and you’re running?” she offered as an example. “What kind of chapstick works best for running?
“People hate to ask those questions. You feel like youíre not really a runner, if you have to ask them.”
Pilkington gears her newsletters to women of varying running strength, but especially beginners. Now about to turn 37 — and 80 pounds lighter than when she started — she feels a special connection with newcomers.
Nelson credits Pilkingtonís efforts for helping the ARC and Woodstock grow its female participation.
“Mercy is excellent at motivating and mentoring new runners and encouraging and challenging old ones,” said Nelson, how the Woodstock race director. “She has breathed energy into the women’s division, and they are a vibrant and active group.
“They are made up of walkers, walker/joggers, and runners and triathletes and trail runners.”
Woodstock organizers also offer practical draws for female runners, including Kids Corral.
The corral is a fenced-in area between the start-finish line that offers inflatable bouncers, a climbing wall, a water slide and other activities. Itís run by nine trained volunteers.
“Kids Corral allows that mom runner who, maybe, doesn’t have her husband here at the race to keep the child while she goes and runs it and doesn’t want to hire a baby sitter for that morning,” Nelson said. “You’re able to check your child in while you go and run, and then, as soon as you finish, you check your child out.”
Pilkington can personally vouch for the Kids Corral enclosure fence. She sold it to Woodstock organizers after using it in her yard.
Once parents finish the Woodstock, they can check their kids out of the corral and watch them run Kidstock. Mothers find lots of other mothers around.
“Women are social creatures, and we’re always encouraging each other,” Pilkington said. “‘Why don’t you come running with us? So what, if you can’t run far. We’ll stay with you.’
“We make it less intimidating, just by nature, because that’s how women are. Weíll talk to anybody.”
Joe Medley is The Starís sports columnist. He can be reached at 235-3576 or email@example.com.