After weeks of squeezing in morning runs before classes, junior Madeline O’Neil completed her third half-marathon Sunday with 15,000 other women in a run across D.C.
O’Neil, an engineering major, said joining a running club forced her to make time to train for the 13.1-mile race, though she still had to pull off a few all-nighters to keep up with her 19-credit course load.
“You just have to be committed,” O’Neil said. “You definitely do not have to be some super-star athlete to do this. There are so many different kinds of training plans that are about slowly increasing your mileage. Anyone who wants to can do it.”
Nearly every runner in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon was female, and about half were college students.
Nike has pushed to have more young women participate in long distances races, organizing a women’s full and half marathon in San Francisco and the second-annual D.C. race that stretches from the National Mall to the East Potomac Golf Course.
The athletics apparel corporation turned up a marketing campaign for college-aged women, holding special registration periods for students. Organizers put blue Tiffany boxes in the post-race swag bags, which local ROTC members in tuxedos handed out at the finish line.
Women made up 61 percent of half-marathon runners nationwide last year, but only 11 percent were between 18 and 24 years old. The oldest female runner at the D.C. race this year was 77 years old.
“It’s really about women empowerment. We can do this too,” said junior and participant Jenlain Coyle.
The race supported the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an organization that helps fund blood cancer research. Members of the group “Team in Training” sported matching shirts and the names of family and friends affected by the diseases.
Supporters came to cheer on the runners, marking every mile of the race with loud bells, signs that read “Worst Parade Ever” and “Hurry up, you’re in my wife’s fart cloud,” even a cardboard cutout of Michelle Obama with an accompanying speech bubble that read “Twerk.”
Runners sported Wonder Woman capes, tutus and fun-colored socks. The cheers, music and refuel stations kept participants motivated over the course of the 13.1 mile race.
“Even if you think you’re slow, even if you don’t think you’re fast enough to be considered a runner, that doesn’t matter. When you’re at a race, every single person is supporting you,” Coyle said.
Whole Foods co-sponsored the event, providing post-race snacks like Gorrilla Munch and reusable water bottles. It promoted a “Chocolate Mile” between the 11th and 12th miles, encouraging runners to reach the finish line by rewarding them with a treat.
Before the race, running clubs at GW and across the city offered coaching and a dive to support college students as they juggled training with class work.
Junior Ashley Wain worked as a pacer for the Nike Run Club, based out of the company’s Georgetown location. For the past several months she lead runs across D.C., helping train both first-time half-marathon runners and veterans.
Wain said she noticed that women often think of running as part of a strategy to slim down instead of a way to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle. Working with Nike, Wain tells her runners to take a more holistic approach to training, emphasizing health over dropping a few pounds.
“It’s really amazing to watch the group go throughout their entire journey. There were a lot of people who started training for the half who had never really run before. I got to watch them literally start from not running at all to being able to now run the half,” Wain said.