"In my day, the stereotypes for black women runners were sprinters like Wilma Rudolph or Florence Griffith-Joyner. You never thought distance was something a black woman could do," Carter said. "I think our group gives young girls new role models."

In her own way, Allison Kauffman said, she is doing the same. Now 40, and with three grade-school daughters in tow, she decided this year "to do something for myself and my body."

She will run the half-marathon, her first distance race since her cross-country days at Towson State.

"No offense to my family, but it was a relief to get out of the house [to train]," said Kauffman, of Selinsgrove, Pa. "To be honest, I felt guilty asking my husband, 'Can you watch the girls for an hour?' But he's supportive and, as I began enjoying it, I felt less selfish.

"I don't know if it's the Nike ads or the Olympics, but you see a lot more female athletes being celebrated these days, and I think more and more women my age are inspired to do something about it."

Others like Michel'le Stallworth gravitated to running — she'll do the 5K — after playing team sports.

"In other sports, if you screw something up, people talk about you behind your back," said Stallworth, 21, of Rosedale. "But in running, you can be the slowest one out there and people will still cheer you on to the finish."

In fact, you can walk the whole race and still get high-fives at the end, said Donna Shue, of Carlisle, Pa. For the second time, she and seven of her friends will walk the half-marathon, an accomplishment that took them 31/2 hours last year.

"We're ready. We're pumped up for this," Shue, 53, said. "We don't go to gyms and we'll never be on the cover of Shape Magazine, but we want to stay healthy. And [events such as this] are less intimidating now. It's a societal change. Walking 13.1 miles is a pretty darn good achievement for anyone, and it's such a great feeling to cross that finish line."

She wants others to know that too.

Said Shue: "When I wear my [running festival] shirt, people say, 'Oh, you're a runner?'

"I say, 'No, I'm a walker.' But I say it proudly."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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