Women Drive Half-Marathon Popularity in Road Races


Kellie Nickerson of Albuquerque, N.M., won the inaugural Tinker Bell Half Marathon in 1:27:52. Photo courtesy runDisney.

The half-marathon is the fastest growing distance in the U.S. It’s also runners’ favorite distance to race according to Running USA’s National Runner Survey. Who is driving this phenomenon? Women.

It’s no wonder that when runDisney decided to add another flagship race to their series, they opted for a women-focused half-marathon. The Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend enjoyed its inaugural run at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 29. More 17,000 runners participated in three major running events over the course of the weekend: 12,000 runners tackled the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, 4,000 jogged the Never Land Family Fun Run 5K, and 1,300 tykes tried the runDisney Kid’s Races.

Women-only or women-focused races are a growing segment of the running industry, fuelled largely by an influx of women into the sport. And while races welcome men as well—920 men lined up at the start of the Tinker Bell Half along with 11,080 women—race directors are luring women with extra perks like preferred placement at the start, ladies cut race T-shirts, and expanded awards for women only.

At Tinker Bell, the first corral was reserved for the fastest female runners; no men allowed. Also, only women were eligible for overall and age group awards, as well as awards for the top mother/daughter teams who both run the half, sister teams, open division teams, military women, wheelchair athletes and masters women. Men who ran as part of a coed team—where each member runs the entire half—could win a coed team award, but other than their finisher medal, that’s it. The focus was on the ladies.

The half-marathon has been the fastest growing race distance every year since 2003, according to Running USA, which tracks stats on racing in the U.S. From 2009 to 2010, the half-marathon saw a record annual increase in finishers, growing 24 percent. Since 2000, the number of half-marathon finishers in the U.S. has nearly tripled from 482,000 runners to 1.385 million runners in 2010. According to Running USA, no other race distance has matched this level of growth.


Many women ran the Tinker Bell Half Marathon with friends. Photo courtesy of runDisney.

One of the key factors in the half-marathon explosion has been increasing participation by women, Running USA reports. Women account for 59 percent of all half-marathon finishers, up from 49 percent in 2004. In fact, since 1995, the number of women running half-marathons has increased six-fold, from 135,000 women in 1995 to 820,000 women in 2010.

Why? When it comes to racing, women love the half-marathon. More than 38 percent of women say it’s their favorite race, more than any other distance. And almost 77 percent of women say they are looking forward to running a half-marathon in the next year, compared to just 48 percent who want to run a marathon. The half-marathon is also the favorite race distance among men, but not as passionately: 69 percent say they want to run a half-marathon in the next year, but 57 percent say they also want to run a marathon.

As for women-only events—which are defined by Running USA as races where roughly 95 percent or more of finishers are women—the half-marathon is also the queen of the road. Seven of the 15 largest women-only events are half-marathons. Disney’s Princess Half Marathon is the second largest women-only event in the U.S., behind the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon in San Francisco. The inaugural Tinker Bell Half Marathon will likely debut in the top five largest women’s races of 2012. The event is one of the approximately 30 new half-marathons that debut each year.

The Tinker Bell Half Marathon is a cooperative effort between Disney and the City of Anaheim. The course runs through Downtown Disney and Disneyland Park. Runners then make their way to downtown Anaheim, running by Anaheim Ice, City Hall and Anaheim GardenWalk before heading to Disney’s California Adventure Park. Finishers—both women and men alike—earned their “wings” with the new Tinker Bell medal.

The complete report on the race is available here.

As part of the running media, runDisney is providing me with complimentary race entry, hotel, and park tickets for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend. But as always, all opinions are purely my own. I really do believe in being honest about my experiences and Disney is no exception. For more information read my Disclosure Policy.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


02 2012

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  1. 1

    En Espaa, sucede todo lo contrario; hacen falta ms mujeres que se decidan a la hora de correr; ese movimiento que se est dando en tu pas, espero que llegue pronto aqui. El deporte somos todos, y cuantos ms seamos mejor.
    Un saludo.

    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      Since I don’t speak Spanish, I plugged Daniel’s comment into Google Translate: “In Spain, the opposite happens, we need more women to decide when to run, this movement that is happening in your country, I hope you come soon here. The sport we all are, and the more the merrier.
      A greeting.” I know Google Translate doesn’t get idiom perfectly, but the gist of her comment is there. Thanks for reading Daniel! It’s really interesting to hear a perspective from the running community in another country.


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