Organizers of this weekend's Baltimore Running Festival can't say exactly how many families, spouses, friends and co-workers will be running among the more than 17,000 who have signed up for the eighth annual event.
The pairs and groups are easy to spot running side by side and chatting throughout the races. And the number surely has grown every year as the number of people who participate has grown. But the organizers believe one family in particular may have the most members in one year's worth of races.
This Saturday, the relatives, a baker's dozen, will lace up their shoes, put on their Under Armour shirts and circle the city, as part of the marathon, half-marathon or 5K race. Together, they will cover nearly 150 miles of urban streets, steep hills and grassy parks.
"There is definitely peer pressure," said Joan Collins, one of the sisters, who gathered the family at her Ellicott City house on a recent evening to eat and needle the members signed up for the shortest race, the 5K, which is 3.1 miles.
She may have laughed at her remark, but she was only half-joking.
This family is warm and complimentary of each others' achievements. No one would even take credit for being the fastest runner. But the group, which doesn't have a spare pound or a lazy bone among them, also take their exercise fairly seriously.
They think they've tracked the genesis to Susan Lancelotta, Collins' 51-year-old sister who lives in Sykesville (signed up for the half-marathon). She and her husband, Nick Koutrelakos, also 51 (full marathon), own a house in Wyoming near the Grand Tetons. She pushed her sisters to climb the peaks, rewarding them with a place on her "wall of fame" if they did. A doctor, she also urged them to exercise for their health.
Running helped build endurance and get them into climbing shape.
At some point a few years ago, Lancelotta's daughter, Mary Pat Lancelotta, 31 (5K), who lives in New York, invited her cousin and Collins' daughter, Erin Hoffman, 30 (full marathon), to the city to run the marathon there. She was hooked and has since run several big races, including the Boston Marathon, one of the most prestigious of the nation's growing number of marathons because it requires participants to qualify by beating benchmark times.
Others in the family started to follow their lead.
Last year, 12 members of the family ran in the Baltimore festival, which they say they like the best because it's their hometown event. There are "always big crowds, a lot of great music and those guys who hand out Gummi bears and beer," said Chris Collins, Joan Collins' 33-year-old son (half marathon).
Aside from the hills, they say they like the course, too. The races shut down a large swath of the city to automobiles and funnel runners through many of the city's neighborhoods and around many of the major attractions, including the Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry, Patterson Park, Camden Yards and Lake Montebello.
This year, the family is up to 13, and some would have signed up for more miles but the events sold out too fast. So, two will run the full marathon at 26.2 miles, while six will cover half that. And the five members who could take the heat from the family are signed on to do the 5K.
Rob Hannan, Collins' son-in-law, is the one taking the harshest verbal beating. Though he ran the half-marathon last year, his knee couldn't take that kind of pounding this year, he said. He signed up for the 5K, and the e-mails and calls from the others began flowing like Gatorade on a hot race day.
"Next time, there will be a distance requirement or a qualifying time to marry into the family," said Uncle Nick Koutrelakos with a chuckle.
It may be ribbing, but families and friends who encourage each other are more likely to keep training and keep in shape - and enjoy the achievement of finishing a race more, said Gene Brtalik, spokesman for Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which organizes the Baltimore Running Festival.
Corrigan has hooked up with the Fall Road Running Store to offer a training program that provides a structure for less-experienced runners and support for the more-experienced ones.
Those who are left alone may choose to spread out on the couch and watch TV instead, said Brtalik.
He said he knows of others who plan to run with family members, albeit not 12 of them. In addition to Collins' family, he also knows of a man who is running with a jogging stroller holding his son, who has autism, two women who plan to dress like crabs and a husband and wife who are celebrating their anniversary the day of the race. They plan to head out later for a cruise to Bermuda.
There will also be a woman who missed a marathon 25 years ago because she was pregnant with her son but will run in Baltimore this year with him.
"The festival has become a family affair," he said. "People are excited and want to do it together. It's great for the race because they have so much fun they come back year after year. They also definitely spread their exercise ethic."
Back at the Collins house, the family was talking about making a big pasta dinner to share the evening before the races. The youngest members were toddling around, but they will, no doubt, be indoctrinated in the family pastime soon enough.
Jacque Kelly, another of Collins' sisters, was already talking about a day-after marathon hike.
"Or we could sit and watch the Ravens on TV," said Chris Collins. "Nah."
If you go The Baltimore Running Festival is Saturday. The marathon begins at 8 a.m. at Russell and Camden streets and the half-marathon begins at 9:45 a.m. at Conway and Light streets. There is also a team relay, a 5K race and a kids' fun run. For more information, go to thebaltimoremarathon.com.
training for a race Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, will help you lose weight, improve your heart health, reduce stress and boost energy. Here are some tips for training for your first 5K from active.com:
See your doctor Make sure you don't have a health-related impairment to running.
Get over your mental hurdle You may feel like you'll be the slowest runner or unable to finish, but all new runners feel this way.
Exercise with a friend or group You're more likely to continue if others are depending on you and encourage you.
Start slow If you've been inactive, give yourself up to 12 weeks to build a base. You should be able to comfortably talk while you're running.
Sign up for a race Having a goal is motivating. Ask the local running store for a recommendation for a fun first run.
Workout three times a week Build up running time over 10 weeks. Start the first week with a 20-30 minute walk. Week 2, alternative walking and running every few minutes. Build running time until Week 10 when you run for 30 minutes straight.