This weekend is the unofficial kickoff of the running season in Minnesota. One of the state's most popular races, the Get in Gear, is this Saturday.
Paulette Odenthal is the director of the race, which starts in Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis.
She said she's expecting as many as 7,000 participants, possibly a record turnout for the 32-year-old event. She said it may be part of a growing trend for runners in the Twin Cities.
"We have another boom for running," Odenthal said. "It's not so much the racers, as it was in the late 1970s and early '80s, as much as it is the answer to many people who put it on their 'bucket list,' for a marathon, or just the answer to a recreation that's a little more cost effective than other things."
Dave Eckberg is hoping to get 4,000 runners to a brand new race, a new marathon along the St. Croix River near Stillwater, on May 24.
It's a spring version of the popular Lumberjack Days race he'll put on in July. Eckberg thinks there is untapped demand for more well-organized running events. "It's because people are more aware of health and wellness," said Eckberg. "I think people are more aware of eating well and exercise, and I think a running program is part of that."
There are other factors driving the growth, too.
Computer technology and the Internet have made it easier to both organize and advertise races. The Internet has also made it simpler to distribute results to participants after they finish.
And, organizers say new runners are signing up.
Years ago, less than one-third of the participants in the popular Get in Gear race were female. But this Saturday, nearly three of every five runners will be women. Odenthal, the race director, thinks the shift is part of another trend.
"We have a lot of fund-drive type of events, cause-oriented events," Odenthal said. "I think that's kind of a drive toward the female that is making the decision for the families. You know, we're going to go and do this event, because it's going to help with our health objectives that we want to accomplish, plus its going to raise money for X, Y or Z."
Minnesota's other new marathon -- The Minneapolis Marathon -- is a benefit race, too. The event is being staged by Team Ortho, a group that helps fund orthopedic research.
After offering a half-marathon last year, the group decided there was enough demand to put on a full 26.2-mile race this year, starting in the city's Mill District.
Race director Caleb Olsen thinks part of the draw for new running events is that they're listening to what participants want.
Races have organized formal training programs and are allowing iPods again, after a temporary ban by USA Track and Field, the governing body for competitive running.
Olsen said the Minneapolis marathon will also keep its finish line up for seven hours, to accommodate walkers who can't finish a six-hour race like the Twin Cities Marathon, which takes place in October.
"Having more water stops, having longer course times that are open is a big deal in being able to do a marathon," Olsen said.
The economy, too, seems to be a factor in the uptick of local races.
Eden Prairie runner Beth Sims, a veteran of the Boston Marathon, was out over the weekend on a training run for the Minneapolis marathon. She said she's glad to see the growth in events closer to home.
"I think a lot of the marathons are not filling up like they used to, just because a lot of them, you have to travel a ways to get there," Sims said. "There's the cost of hotels, and the traveling to get there. That's why this one is perfect, too, because it's right in our back yard."
Registration has been slow to fill up for Grandma's Marathon in Duluth in June, in part for that very reason, although organizers say they still expect to reach their limit of 9,500 runners. The new Minneapolis Marathon on May 31, will run from downtown to Fort Snelling and back. Organizers hope to get 2,000 new runners for the marathon, and another 3,000 for a 13-mile race.
About 11,000 people run the Twin Cities marathon.