Runners charge into Women’s Fitness Festival

The family that runs together stays fit together.

That’s the philosophy behind Keely Groves’ decision to have her two daughters, Savannah, 14, and Gabriella, 11, join her on the 5K run Sunday at the Kaiser Permanente Women’s Fitness Festival.

“I wanted to do this as a family,” said Groves, 43, of Elk Grove. “It’s all girls.”

The three were among 2,600 women and girls who took part in the 5K run near the state Capitol. Slamson the Lion, the Sacramento Kings’ mascot, led off the race, speeding ahead on roller skates, while a crowd clad in red T-shirts surged after him.

This year, for the first time, a half-marathon was added to the festival.

“The half-marathon is the favorite going distance for a race,” said Dusty Robinson, general manager of Fleet Feet Sports, which organized the races at the festival. “We like to enhance our event with something new.”

The half-marathon, which started a half hour before the 5K run, drew another 1,400 participants, pushing up attendance at the festival to over 4,000 people this year, up 300 from last year.

For many, including Gabriella Groves, Sunday was their first 5K. “It’s tiring,” said Gabriella, who considered the run part of her soccer training.

Despite her background as a cross-country runner for Cosumnes Oaks High School, Savannah also found the race a challenge. “What she said,” Savannah said afterward, nodding to her sister.

For Tracy Plessas, 51, of Sacramento, this was her fourth year running the 5K.

“I love the community of all the women coming together to encourage fitness,” she said after receiving a 10-minute massage in the Massage Envy Recovery Zone.

Almost all 20 massage tables were occupied at any given time, as a long line of exhausted runners queued up for a free session after the 5K.

One woman – a runner – collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital for heat-related symptoms, according to a paramedic who treated the woman.

Despite the shade along the race route, it was hot in the morning, reaching 86 degrees by 10 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. Bottled water was offered to runners at the end of the race, and paper fans and free sunscreen were available at Kaiser booths. One sponsor, Whole Foods Market, offered free fresh fruit and yogurt with granola.

Sunday was the first time that Viola Brooks, 33, of Sacramento went to the Fitness Festival. She had been invited by her sister-in-law, Sirena Kay, 29, of Sacramento, who wanted to run in the 5K. This was Kay’s third 5K run since January but the second 5K that Brooks had ever run.

“I like it because it was shady,” said Brooks of the race course. “I was a bit worried about running in the sun, but most of it was in the shade. And there was a live band at Capitol Avenue and 10th Street, so people were dancing in the street.”

Huyen Brannan, 42, of Woodland and her 12-year-old daughter, Leila, were thrilled to meet a sports celebrity, Deena Kastor, who won a bronze medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She also holds American women’s records for the marathon, the half-marathon and other distance races.

Brannan said she decided to take up running after her husband, Greg, died of a rare cancer last year at 56.

Kastor, 41, of Mammoth Lakes, was the special guest at the fitness festival Sunday. She watched the start of the 5K on the sideline, offering support to the participants. Afterward, she autographed photos at a booth.

“It feels like a girls’ weekend,” she said. “Women have been energized through the spirit of running. They see it energize their whole life. The spirit not only makes you a better athlete, but a better person.”