After participating in Anchorage's Gold Nugget Triathlon four years ago, Jennifer Jackson was hooked on running. Since then, she's entered several annual community races on the Kenai Peninsula. Last summer Jackson raced almost every weekend. And she's not alone.
Over the last five years, the number of female entrants at many community races on the Peninsula has been increasing. The Rotary Unity Run saw increases of overall women from 2006 to 2008. Females in the five-kilometer race grew each year from 2006 to 2009. The Run for the River went from 37 women four years ago to 184 this year, steadily increasing each year. From 2006 to 2008, the Kenai River Marathon had between 18 and 27 female runners. Last year that number jumped to 56 -- 49 ran the half marathon and seven ran the full. This year was the only time since 2005 that more men participated in the Everything But the Red Run, outnumbering the females by two.
Jackson attributes the increase to camaraderie in the running community.
"I never had so many friends before this. It's amazing," she said. "All the people you meet, they're all friendly."
Even when running in Anchorage, Jackson sees familiar faces from the Peninsula.
"You have friends at every run," she said. "I never feel alone.
"It sucks you in," Jackson added.
Rhonda Torkelson, who started running 16 months ago, can attest to the latter.
"It's kind of addicting," she said. "It feels good to push yourself a little more and reach goals."
As a nursing student, Torkelson took up running to practice what her soon-to-be profession preaches. Torkelson's friend persuaded her to use former U.S. Olympian Jeff Galloway's run-walk method to ease her way into the sport.
"I'd always been interested in running but was never an athlete," Torkelson said. "I never considered myself a runner."
Last June Torkelson ran the Run for the River, her first five-kilometer race. As a wife and mother of three, Torkelson's running is having an impact on her family. Torkelson's husband, Jim, started running with her and he -- and Jackson -- are participating in the Skinny Raven half marathon on Sunday. Torkelson and Jackson said running is also a way to promote health and fitness to their kids.
"I want to be a good example for them as they get into their teen years," Torkelson said.
Both Jackson and Torkelson plan on running in the LeeShore Center's 23rd annual Run for Women on Saturday. The race is to raise awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence in the community.
A five- and 10-kilometer race will be held. Both start at 10 a.m. at the Kenai City Park on Main Street Loop. The entrance fee is $15 beforehand and $20 on race day. The event features food, door prizes and an awards ceremony. Proceeds benefit victims services.
The Run for Women, too, has seen recent growth. Last year nearly 200 participated in the event.
"We typically get anywhere from 150 to about 225 participants," said LeeShore Center Executive Director Cheri Smith. "It's a pretty good showing.
"It's an awareness event," Smith said. "It's an opportunity for women to get together and do a fun event."
Helping a good cause is another positive aspect of running for Torkelson.
"I'm motivated by sometimes what the run is benefiting," she said. "It does give a good sense of community."
Running is more than just physical exercise, it's a stress relief, Jackson said.
"I like running by myself. You can work things out in your head," she said. "You think a lot.
"I'm nicer after I run," Jackson added.
Jackson also enjoys running with friends. On longer runs, a partner helps the time pass by faster, she said.
"We just talk our ears off," Jackson said.
Jackson said training with others helps push her in her quest to continually better her times.
Running gives Jackson more energy, she said.
"I seem to get a lot more done after my run," Jackson said. "It helps in a lot of areas."
Running positively affects other areas of your life, such as developing better eating and sleeping habits, Torkelson said.
"It's a great motivator," she said.
As someone that runs just for fun and fitness, Torkelson said she was surprised to learn that there are many other women just like her.
"I'm not out there breaking records or trying to break records," she said. "It's been enjoyable to be part of that."
Whether you're training to win the next marathon or just out to shed a few pounds, running is beneficial.
"It's a good exercise," Torkelson said. "I would highly recommend it."
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