Running like a girl is goal to strive for nowadays, especially if you want to cover a lot of ground. In the past decade, the number of female finishers in U.S. marathons grew by 50 percent, from 141,600 to 212,400, according to Running USA, a non-profit that aims to improve the status and experience of distance running. Why are so many women trading their stilettos for sneakers?

“The huge success of charity training programs (such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training) that prepare new runners for their first marathon is the main reason more women are participating,” says Ryan Lamppa, a Running USA researcher. Marathons have also become more family- and community-centered and fun, and buzz from social media has turned the distance into a bucket-list item, he adds.

Even if running even one straight mile seems difficult, there’s no reason to write off the idea of a race. With the right training plan, anyone—of any age, size, and body shape—can complete a marathon—and sculpt the killer legs and butt that come with it! To help you get out the door for those first steps, six marathon finishers share their training and race tips for crossing the finish line of a 26.2-miler.

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