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Run, St. Louis, run! Go! Marathon begins a season of running and opportunities to get involved

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Signs of spring are rare, so far. A few daffodils, maybe, but if the lingering cold has you doubting the season’s really arrived, then look to the tens of thousands of runners hitting the streets of St. Louis this weekend for confirmation.

Go! St. Louis Marathon offers several events throughout the weekend, from a marathon and half marathon, a 5K run/walkand children’s fun runsto a mature mile, which this year will feature two 100-year-old participants. (Follow the links to find routes and start times, so you can -- if you're not running -- applaud the efforts of those running by.)

It’s not really about running, says Nancy Lieberman, president of Go!

It’s about being fit and active. Lots of runners, such as Lieberman, get into the individual sport for stress relief. Others need a way to stay in shape and keep active, like Jen Mommens, executive director of St. Louis Track Club.

She started after college and says, whether she’s in a race or not, she’s still out there battling the clock and her own best time.

There must be something to it. St. Louis has numerous running clubs and groups as well as marathons throughout the year.

And this weekend, about 25,000 people will run in Go!

If all this sounds daunting and rather sweaty, don’t click away just yet. Even the most seasoned and hard core runners had to take that first step, literally.

Here’s how.

Get going

If by this time next year you’re hoping to be preparing to join the festivities and not just reading about them, there are simple steps to take to get running (and walking.)

But wait, before you open the door and, you know, just run, Lieberman recommends you head to the store. Specifically, she says, head to a specialty running store and get a proper pair of running shoes.

Next, find a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, or even a running group and run together. Having another person to run with not only adds camaraderie, Lieberman says, “it also adds a little peer pressure.”

And that peer pressure may ensure that you get up for those early runs or make those runs after work instead of skipping them.

There are lots of opportunities to meet other runners around St. Louis, if your neighbors, friends and co-workers would rather not. St. Louis Track Club offers a partner search as well as info on weekly and monthly runs. Big River Running Company also offers lots of information on group runs that fit a variety of skill levels.

Now, you’ve got the right shoes and a friend or 20 to run with, what next?

Start slow. 

A lot of new runners make the mistake of not having a training schedule, Lieberman says, and overdoing it. 

You can find a number of resources to help you with your schedule online, including one from Big River Running offering a day-to-day guide for first timers on how to get off the couch and into a 5K. 

There are lots of apps, of course, and Men’s Health highlighted a few last summer, including “Zombies, Run!” which offers a GPS and a game-like challenge to keep moving or be eaten by the zombies on your phone. Once you’ve outrun the zombies and are ready for a real marathon, “Race Finder,” can help you connect with local marathons near you. Or, if you’re a do-it-myself kind of runner, you can train virtually with an Olympian. “Easy 5K with Jeff Galloway” offers a seven-week program from the athlete and trainer.

This weekend, you can also sign up for a couch-to-5K training session, which begins in August, at the St. Louis Running Club's tent at the Health and Fitness Expo at Chafitz Arena, Mommens says.

Get out

Shoes on, friends nearby, training program all set, the most fun question may be where to run? 

St. Louis Track Club offers lots of resources on www.stlouistrackclub.com/area_paths.htm, from Babler State Park to routes through Forest Park and Tower Grove Park. Big River Running also offers links and maps to nearly 30 trails in the area that all offer the chance to see St. Louis from a slightly different perspective.

The theme for Go! this weekend is “St. Louis Originals.” In a series of videos, the nonprofit features people and places unique to St. Louis that runners will pass this weekend. Included are St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny, representing mile 5 of the race as it passes by Busch Stadium, Jake the Clydesdale at Anheuser-Busch on mile 3, and Crown Candy Kitchen in Old North for the finish line. In its 13th year, the annual marathon will take runners through places that are uniquely St. Louis, Lieberman says, and at the end, they’ll find St. Louis treats like Ted Drewes and toasted ravioli. 

“What we want to do is celebrate St. Louis,” she says, “because we live in an amazing place, and we need to celebrate our own.”

While there's not enough time to train for a 5K between now and, well, tomorrow, you could go ahead and start for next year, or for any of the upcoming marathons that are generously sprinkled throughout the spring, summer and fall in St. Louis. 

Running isn't just about running, but setting goals, taking care of yourself and getting or staying in shape. People run for different reasons, Lieberman says, whether it's to be social or lose weight.

"But mostly," she says, "it's to feel good about themselves."

Kristen Hare