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Run, St. Louis, run: With April 11's GO! St. Louis marathon, the running season hits its stride

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 31, 2010 -Runners to your calendars. Ready. Set.

Take your pick.

Now through October, runners in St. Louis have their choice of more than 140 races, including 1Ks, 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons. There are dashes and rambles and run/walks. They happen early and late, on weekdays and weekends.

"The St. Louis running community is very strong," says Jeff Trammel, director of marketing and communications with GO! St. Louis. "There is a high interest in running here."

On April 11, GO! St. Louis will have its 10th marathon in the city. More than 23,000 people are expected to participate in 10 races throughout the weekend. The half-marathon sold out and added an additional 2,500 spots, for a total of 12,500 people competing. That's a record for GO!

"This is going to be our biggest year ever," Trammel says.

At GO!, this years participation marks a 700 percent increase from the first marathon 10 years ago, which had just 2,500 people.

And in the United States, 2009 was a record-setting year for marathons, according to the 2010 Marathon and State of Sports Report from Running USA, a non-profit that promotes the running industry. Last year saw an increase in participation by nearly 10 percent, and according to the report, that's the largest rise in 25 years.

Among the reasons Running USA found for the spike:

  • People were running in response to the bad economy. It was a stress reliever, they pointed out, and people had more time to train.
  • Training was something they could control, "unlike the stock market or the economy."
  • Other reasons included the good feelings surrounding a race weekend and well-organized events.

At Big River Running Company, co-owner Ben Rosario sees runners of all ages, shapes and sizes. And for the life-long runner, it's not hard to see why people get hooked. Running doesn't require a membership or contract and you don't have to have a certain number of people to make it work.
"The beauty of running is that you're not competing against others," he says. "You're competing against yourself."

The quantifiable goals and measures are challenging and satisfying to reach. And while not everyone likes to run marathons or races, Rosario says, it's clearly a growing passion for many.

Most runners spend the week on their own, running their own route.

"But then on Saturday you get to go out and run with hundreds of people."

Or in the case of GO!, thousands.

GO! St. Louis will bring in an additional 20,000 to 25,000 spectators, Trammel says, and includes runners from 47 states and 10 different countries.

"We've had a good model because we have events for all different ages and fitness levels," he says.

And while GO! is a popular event, other races are well-attended, too, including the St. Patrick's Day Parade Run, a 5-miler, which brought in more than 11,000 people, and Race for the Cure, a 5-K that takes place June 12, this year.

In 1999, when Race for the Cure began in St. Louis, it had 10,257 participants. In 2009, there were 66,470.

Last year the race raised $3.25 million, but holding a race is not a sure way for organizations to bring in money, Rosario says.

"It's really a different market now because you really have to separate yourself to get a lot of people to your runs," he says. "Not because there's not a ton of runners, but there's a ton of races."

Often, Rosario says he cautions charities and non-profits that they can't just expect to have a lot of people show up and run. There are many races to choose from most days, and so people may pick the one that offers them the most, from quality of the T-shirt to refreshments to entertainment after.

"The quality of your event has to be there or people won't come back," Trammel says.

At GO!, 60 percent of participants are women, he says. So this year, they added women's cut shirts, which are already very popular.

"It's a professional industry," Rosario says.

That's true for the technology finding it's way into some local races, too. At events Rosario times for, runners get disposable time chips that record time and post results 15 minutes after the race.

Individual runners have some new products out there, including the Garmin Forerunner. There are different models, Rosario says, but the watch-like device reports speed and distance with satellite technology. You can download the results after a run and see your per-mile splits, pace and elevation. One model costs about $300, or $350 with a heart-rate monitor.

At Big River Running Company, Rosario says business has grown steadily. Despite the bad economy, people so far have proven they'll pay $100 for shoes to do something they're passionate about.

"If you can afford the cost of your shoes, you can go out the door and you can start training," says Megan Earney, an Olathe, Kan., resident who won the women's marathon last year at GO!

Earney started training after college and has competed in four marathons, six half marathons and a lot of smaller races.

This year, she'll compete in the half-marathon at GO!.

"Right now I'm feeling pretty strong," she says. "But we'll see what the field brings."

Regardless, Earney is looking forward to running alongside world-class athletes. And if the attendance numbers are any signal, so are about 22,999 other people.


We asked a few St. Louis runners about their running habits, how they got started and what routes they love to run in and out of town.

Ben Rosario, Co-owner, Big River Running Company, St. Louis

How did you get started running?

I began running in 6th grade. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher at my little Catholic grade school who was a runner and started a South City Track Meet in the spring and a cross country meet in the fall. I fell in love immediately!

What race are you most proud of running?

In 2005 I finished second at the U.S. Marathon Championships at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis. I hadn't been mentioned at the pre-race press conference as one of the favorites, but I ran a really smart race and came from behind to get second. It was really fun to pass all the guys who everyone thought were going to win. I won $20,000 too, which was nice!

What's your favorite route to run in St. Louis?

I really just like running around the neighborhoods in south Saint Louis. That's where I grew up and I love it there.

What's your favorite city to run in other than STL?

Boston. Hands down. Running along the Charles River on a crisp, fall day with all the college students out and about and tons of other runners on the path is a great atmosphere.

What do you eat before a run and what do you eat after?

Well, as I type this answer I just put down a Clif Bar and I'll be running in about an hour so I guess that answers that. After a morning run I go straight to a nice heaping bowl of Life Cereal.

Name one song on your playlist right now that gets you going.

"Teary-Eyed Woman" by The Weeks.

Complete this sentence -- If I didn't run, I would ....

play tennis like my favorite athlete growing up, Andre Agassi.

Jeff Trammel, Director of marketing and communications, GO! St. Louis

How did you get started running?

Started running after college soccer ended to stay in shape -- 1990.

What race are you most proud of running?

Posted a 1:34 half marathon in the Lewis & Clark Marathon in St. Charles, Mo.

What's your favorite route to run in St. Louis?

Can't beat running in Forest Park. All of the people out there keep me motivated.

What's your favorite city to run in other than STL?

Favorite place to run is Torrey Pines State Park in LaJolla, Calif. Scenery is amazing!

What do you eat before a run and what do you eat after?

Before a half marathon, I generally eat a half of a banana, a small protein bar and one small cup of coffee. After a run I crave a big breakfast: eggs, pancakes, milk, etc.

Name one song on your playlist right now that gets you going.

Kris Allen's song "Live Like We're Dying" gets me going.

Complete this sentence -- If I didn't run, I would ....

If I didn't run, I would be biking, swimming or any outdoor activity to keep fit. 

Megan Earney, 2009 GO! St. Louis women's marathon winner

How did you get started running?

I ran cross country and track in high school but really wasn't successful. I started running road races a few years ago and just kept increasing my mileage until I was able to run a marathon.

What race are you most proud of running in?

Probably St. Louis since I was able to get the record and my family was all there to celebrate with me.

What's your favorite city to run in?

I haven't run in many but the race atmosphere and sites in the St Louis race are fantastic.

What do you eat before a run and what do you eat after?

Two days before a big race I load up on carbs, but the night before I try and eat healthy fats like salmon. After the race I eat anything I couldn't while training. My favorite meal is cheeseburgers, fries and probably a few beers, too.

Name one song on your playlist right now?

"Shining Star" by Earth, Wind and Fire

Complete this sentence -- If I didn't run, I would ....

Drive my husband crazy. I would probably get into another endurance sport like biking or swimming.

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