When 16-year-old Kayla Ham arrived at Capitol Mall early Sunday before the Kaiser Permanente Women's Fitness Festival, her goal was to complete her first 5K run. After jogging across the finish line holding hands with her stepmother, Brittany Ham, and family friend Liz Delgado, Kayla said she was excited to sign up for another race.
"I wanted to get in shape and be healthy," said Kayla, a high school student from Folsom who began running this year at the encouragement of her stepmother.
They were three of the about 4,100 participants a record for the event who registered for the run and walk that began on Ninth Street near Capitol Mall, circled through midtown and finished on 10th Street in front of the state Capitol.
After the walk and run, women many dressed in the official hot-pink Nike race shirt proceeded up the west steps of the Capitol to have their body composition tested and to learn how to do breast self-exams in the Kaiser Thrive Pavilion. Some received massages from the 30 therapists in the Recovery Zone, and enjoyed yogurt parfaits and fresh fruit including locally grown strawberries from the Whole Foods Market.
"It's encouraging to see women taking control of their lives with their husbands and families out here supporting them," said Mo Bartley, a race assistant and a coach with the Fleet Feet trail training program that began four years ago.
Brittany Ham and her husband, Mark Ham, who took photographs of his wife and daughter, began running through a Fleet Feet program. In Sacramento, Fleet Feet has trained 3,000 people, and the store produced the eighth annual women's race.
"We went from not being able to run a mile to running a marathon in a year," said Brittany Ham, adding that they joined the training program to get healthier.
The couple completed the California International Marathon in December and plan to run the race again this year.
Lisa Riley, director of training programs, said demand for them has increased since the first was offered in 2004. While Fleet Feet Sacramento's customer base is about 63 percent female, Riley said women make up roughly 70 percent of the training program participants.
"Women are joiners," Riley explained.
A record high of more than 7 million females completed road races in 2011, according to a report on the growth of women's running by the nonprofit organization Running USA. The report states that there were more than 200 races with more than 95 percent female finishers in 2011 race events such as Sunday's Women's Fitness Festival.
Ryan Lamppa, a researcher for Running USA, said new female participants have driven a second boom in running since the mid-1990s.
"In the early 80s, about 10 percent of the fields were female. Now it is approaching 55 percent," Lamppa said.
He attributed that growth to the long-term social changes encouraged since the enactment Title IX in 1972, the accessibility of training programs on the Internet, and the increased awareness of running with both Oprah Winfrey's completion of the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
"The sport is less intimidating and more mainstream," said Lamppa.
Sunday race participant and elite masters runner Barbara Miller of Modesto said she has watched the sport change since she began running in 1983. Miller, 72, won her age group in 23:47.5 and said she finished seconds off her goal of setting an American record.
"Running has become social and more women have gotten into it for the social and health movement," said Miller after completing her fifth consecutive festival race.
Fleet Feet-sponsored racer and former Oregon State University runner Hayley Oveson, 24, of Sacramento won the race, crossing the finish line in 17:39.5, over a minute ahead of the second-place finisher.
Blue Diamond Almonds presented the festival; proceeds from the event benefit WEAVE, or Women Escaping a Violent Environment.
Editor's Note: This article has been changed from the print version to correct the spelling of Ryan Lamppa's name. Corrected on June 4, 2012.