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Striving to reach women runners

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000


The elite won't have to negotiate their way through the men.

The intermediate will be surrounded by many just like them.

The beginners will have a comfortable environment to get involved in running.

In other words, all women can enjoy this race. That's the message being put out by organizers of the inaugural Avon Running-Tampa event, which is today at South Florida. The race, part of the 3-year-old Avon Running Global Women's Circuit, is for women only.

"It's for women and girls of all ages and fitness levels," race director Gail Hardy said. "Elite runners don't have any men in the way, so they can just fly. ... Beginners will have nothing to be intimidated by, because there will be many just like them."

The race will look familiar. For seven years, the Tampa Bay Runners Club operated an all-women's event in November, a 5K and a 1-mile race. In previous years the race was sponsored by Avon; this year, although it still is organized by the Tampa Bay Runners Club, it has become part of the Avon circuit. There is a 10K (8 a.m.) and a 5K (8:30) race, and the location has been moved from Al Lopez Park to USF. Both races start near the Sun Dome.

"It's so exciting," Hardy said. "They asked if we'd be a part of their global circuit, and we were like, "Yes, yes.' We're just so thrilled."

The race has grown significantly this year, primarily for two reasons:

1. There is prize money to lure more competitive runners.

2. The 10-week training class for beginners was marketed much more aggressively. Now in its third year, the once-a-week class drew 20 people last year. This year, 264 took part.

There were 362 race participants last year, an all-time high. This year there will be 725 (all registration was in advance).

"We have a lot going on here," Hardy said. "I think we can be twice as big next year."

The Tampa race is the Avon circuit's 10th in the United States. The circuit also has annual races in 10 other countries: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines and Thailand. The second-annual Avon Running Global Championship race May 21 in Milan drew 4,000 and had a total purse of $50,000.

Proceeds from today's race benefit the Centre for Women, a non-profit organization. For information online, go to http://www.avonrunning.com/tampa or http://www.tampabayrunners.com, or call (813) 987-2729.

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