For the first time in 35 years, Lexington runners will have the opportunity to run a marathon on their home turf.
The Horse Capital Marathon and Half Marathon on May 16 will start and end at Fasig-Tipton, taking runners past dozens of horse farms in the 26.2 miles in between. Race director Bob Baney said 600 people from nearly 33 states already have registered.
Baney is a partner in 3 Way Racing, which handles timing and management for races throughout the area.
"The whole running boom is really taking off here," he said.
Baney pointed to the growth of running events with a party atmosphere, such as color runs and themed runs in which runners run in costume, as an example. In warmer months, there are often a dozen races on a single weekend in this area.
"Social media has fueled a lot of it," he said. "The social element."
There also are a number of newer running clubs. Hundreds of runners gather downtown each Tuesday night to participate in the West Sixth Brewing Running Club. Participants run together, choosing a 1.5-mile or 3-mile route, or setting their own course, then come back together to socialize at West Sixth.
"I always say Tuesday is my favorite night of the week," said Lori Stoneburner, who co-hosts the club, which has been meeting since July 2012. She and co-host Jillian Lykens said new people come every week.
"Last winter when it was negative 10 (degrees), we had new people," Stoneburner said.
Part of the increasing appeal of running is that it is an "easy entry-level" activity that doesn't require a big investment to get started, Lykens said.
James Bacon-Brown, who is part of the West Sixth group and plans to run the Horse Capital half marathon, said he has been running "pretty seriously" for the past year.
"I can just lose myself in the activity," he said. "It's exercising my body. It's exercising my mind. It's almost like meditation."
West Sixth sponsors prizes for newbies and longtime participants. On Dec. 16, the group ran in holiday sweaters and competed afterward for prizes.
John Sensenig, who started John's Run/Walk Shop in 1978, agreed that running has experienced a boom in recent years.
"Running as a whole is growing," he said.
When Sensenig started in the business, he said, runners usually were men who had run in college or high school, and they were often highly competitive. In recent years, many more women have joined in, and they now make up more than half of his customer base.
Many runners nowadays are more concerned with their own personal best than with taking home a trophy.
"It's just a great fitness activity," said Sensenig, whose shop sponsored the last marathon in Central Kentucky, in 1980.
"It's sort of an exciting thing," he said. "I admire Bob for being able to put on a full marathon."
An expo with vendors will be held the Friday before, when runners may pick up their race packets. The event will draw 2,500 runners, Baney said.
Clay Maney, who is part of the West Sixth group, said there's a lot to love about it.
"We don't have to travel for it. It's just a gorgeous course," he said. "It's a great time of year for it."
While most of the runners will come from Central Kentucky, Baney said, he expects it will appeal to the cadre of marathoners who make it a goal to run one in each state. Kentucky has only a few marathons from which they can choose, and this will give them one more choice.
Sensenig said he had considered trying to organize another marathon in recent years, but it never panned out.
"It's very difficult to get 26 miles without running into all sorts of problems," Sensenig said, adding that most cities with marathons also have a river, lake or other feature that helps provide a natural route.
For example, in Cincinnati, he said. runners in the Flying Pig marathon run along the Ohio River.
In this case, the course is a "quasi double loop with a 10.5-mile rectangular center that is done twice," according to race materials.
Central Kentucky's rolling hills also will provide an added challenge that Sensenig said participants need to be prepared for.
"It will not be an easy marathon," he cautioned.
Race organizers are offering monthly training runs on the course for those who live in the area.