- Associated Press - Thursday, January 14, 2016

HOUSTON (AP) - If you asked Alan McClelland about marathon running a few years ago, he’d tell you it was for crazy people.

But on Sunday morning, he’ll be lacing up his silver sneakers in preparation for the 44th annual Chevron Houston Marathon.

“I started running about four years ago, just jogging around Hermann Park,” said McClelland, 60, as he and his daughter Lindsay stood in the park near his apartment last weekend. “I got sick of doing cardio at the gym, so I started running a loop around the park four or five days a week.”

The Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1WaRWZ2 ) reports Lindsay McClelland, 28, started running first. She ran her first half-marathon in 2009 and scaled up to a full marathon in December 2010, even though she said she’d “never done more than 13 miles at that point.”

But once she clocked her first 26.2 miles, there was no turning back.

While marathons were once rarefied events for elite athletes, the number of runners completing the challenge more than tripled nationally between 1980 and 2013. Participation swelled from 143,000 people to 541,000, according to Running USA, a nonprofit that gathers data on race participation and running trends.

The median finishing times also ticked up - from 3 hours and 32 minutes to 4:16 for men, and from 4:03 to 4:41 for women - as more casual marathoners joined the pack.

Lindsay McClelland took up running as a way to stay active, but it’s since turned into a major part of her life.

She joined a local running club, The Kenyan Way, and began rising as early as 4:30 a.m. to squeeze in runs around her Montrose neighborhood before going to work.

Once she discovered how much she loved running with others, Lindsay McClelland asked her father to join the group to see how he liked it.

“I was thinking, ‘These are crazy people that run 10 miles,’” Alan McClelland said with a laugh. “Three miles is fine.”

But after one run with the group, he was just as hooked as his daughter.

“After I was able to do it, I felt good, so I decided to try again and see how it felt a second time. And I enjoyed it, I felt good afterward,” said Alan McClelland, who will run his fourth marathon on Sunday. It will be No. 11 for his daughter.

“In the first running boom, it was hard-core, talented runners, and now you see a lot of people who are just proud to finish the events,” said Wade Morehead, executive director of the Chevron Houston Marathon, which will host a record 27,000 participants in the half- and full-marathon this weekend.

“They don’t necessarily run at a six-, seven- or eight-minute mile pace,” Morehead said. “You have a lot of runners running at nine-, 10- and 11-minute miles.”

The shift has been even more pronounced in recent years, with the number of marathoners across the country increasing by 31 percent between 2007 and 2013,the year of the Boston Marathon bombing and the most recent year for which data is available.

“I think you start to see the growth around the late 2000s, right around 2008 - the same time you begin seeing the recession,” said Rich Harshbarger, CEO of Running USA.

“When people were being downsized or losing their jobs, a lot of the things they gave up were country club memberships, gym memberships and expensive hobbies. And the best thing about running is that it’s a community sport. All you need is shoes and a little bit of time.”

That’s not to say running is easily affordable for everyone. Most runners spend at least $90 on shoes and buy an average of three pairs a year, Running USA reports. More than 69 percent of men and 73 percent of women said they spent $100 or more on runner’s apparel last year, along with race fees for an average of seven events each year.

Lindsay McClelland went low-budget when she first began running, wearing simple cotton clothes for the early stages of her training.

“The cotton T-shirt. The chafing. My God,” she reminisced. Now, she’s invested in training clothes that help wick away sweat, like black Lululemon running pants that retail for $98.

Both she and her father, whom she describes as a “data guy,” also wear high-tech running watches to help analyze their performance.

But the uptick in marathon running around 2008 can also be explained by the increased popularity of social media. For runners, social media is the most common primary source of race information, followed by word of mouth.

“How would we have known in the past that a friend or co-worker was a marathoner, unless they put it on a Christmas card?” Morehead asked. “Now people learn more about what people are doing and enjoying, and it makes it seem more attainable.”

The McClellands help each other, often running the first leg of a race side-by-side.

“Last year in Houston, we started together and we ran the first 10 miles together, until I said, ‘You’ve got to go,’” Alan McClelland said, smiling at his daughter.

“It’s good for me, because ever since I started running marathons, he’s looked at my splits,” Lindsay McClelland said. “And every time, he’d say, ‘Lindsay, you just go out so fast.’ And so, being able to run with him slowed me down a bit, which made my race actually really good.”

This year, they’re both seeded in the same corral, so they plan to begin together again. But this time, Lindsay McClelland will probably pull ahead a few miles earlier than last year, as she seeks to finish above as many women as possible.

Long-distance female runners were few and far between in the early 1970s - only one finished the first Houston marathon, along with 73 men.

A confluence of factors helped bring more women to the starting line year after year: the debunking of the myth that running was bad for women’s health, the progression of second-wave feminism, and Title IX - the 1972 amendment that legislated gender equity across all educational programs, including athletics.

Now, more women call themselves runners than men. Women overtook men for the first time in 2012, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, with women between the ages of 25 and 34 making up the largest age group.

Lindsay McClelland knows how crowded and competitive her cohort is. While her father has qualified for the Boston Marathon - his personal best is just under the 3:55 cutoff time for his age bracket - she needs to finish Houston in less than 3:35 to make it, which means shaving two minutes from her current record.

She has been training hard all year, hoping to make it happen on Sunday.

“I’m not an elite athlete,” she said. “I’m just an everyday person chasing the Boston-qualifying dream.”

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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