The aim is to unite female runners in destination cities while promoting a girls weekend-type experience.
Ask Brae Blackley how much race directing experience she had when she first started the ZOOMA Women’s Race Series and she’ll tell you, “none.”
The 31-year-old remembers taking weekend trips with her girlfriends to participate in races together—a tradition in her circle of friends—despite the non-existence of women’s races in the Mid-Atlantic region at the time.
“Five years ago, there weren’t any women’s races in the area. Running with friends was something I’ve always enjoyed doing, but there wasn’t a series that would bring just a bunch of women together,” says the Virginia resident. It then dawned on her to create a women-only races series that would unite female runners in destination cities while promoting a girls weekend-type experience.
Blackley, who left her career in corporate law to pursue this idea, gave herself six months to establish what she hoped would be the first women’s race series in the Mid-Atlantic. “I figured we’d see what could happen and if it goes well, then great, if not, then I’ll go find a job,” she says.
Without any prior experience as a race director, she set out to find a good venue near Arlington, Va. Blackley worked out of a coffee shop as she scouted potential venues, talked to vendors for sponsorships, and worked with the city to design a suitable course. After months of determination and patience, the first ZOOMA women’s half marathon was born in Annapolis, Md. in the summer of 2008. For nine months, Blackley worked like a one-man shop, overseeing everything from marketing to processing race registrations via SignMeUp.com, using the funds from a small loan, which she has since paid off.
More than 1,600 runners showed up to the start line. Now a growing national program of women’s running events, the ZOOMA series has a half marathon and 5K in Texas, the Great Lakes (about 90 minutes from Chicago), and Atlanta, and a half marathon and 10K in Annapolis and Cape Cod for the first time in September.
“I like choosing destinations that are near resorts and great hotels to attract travelers,” says Blackley. “One of our runners is this woman in the Peace Corps who chooses different ZOOMA races to meet up with her friends. We really encourage our races to be destinations that women can gather at with their girlfriends.”
Blackley says she has never increased the registration fees since the first race in Annapolis and that the current prices ($75-$105 for the half-marathon and $45-$65 for the 10K) reflect the original fees.
Half-marathon finishers receive a necklace designed by Satya Jewelry with “ZOOMA” inscribed on one side of the pendant, and “Run” on the other. The charm design changes every year.
In keeping with the “girls weekend” theme, the post-race party includes live music, wine and champagne from Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, post-race massages, and product giveaways and demos.
Olympic hopeful and American middle-distance runner Sara Hall says her favorite part about the races is seeing the smiles on women’s faces as they ran. Hall, who will run the Muscle Milk Light Zooma race in Texas in October, likes the female ambiance and camaraderie on the course.
“What I love about the Zooma series is that they create an event that encourages a healthy lifestyle in a way that’s fun and rewarding,” says the Muscle Milk Light sponsored athlete. “The race this October is the first race I’ve run myself, but I’m looking forward to it. I hear the resort on Lake Geneva is incredible and that the race course has some spectacular views.”
The race series recently announced a three-year title sponsor with Muscle Milk Light in which its ready-to-drink products will be given away at the post-race party.
While Blackley says the series will not be adding new cities to the 2013 lineup, runners can expect to see a different course for some of the cities.
“This year we’re working with a group of fitness bloggers to help us design a race that’s exactly what a female runner wants to do,” says Blackley. Each blogger will reach out to their followers via social media channels for feedback.
For a list of ZOOMA races near you, visit www.zoomarun.com