Women using walking to connect with others

More people are running and walking these days. Some for charity, some for exercise, but a lot of women are experiencing marathon mania as a way to connect with girlfriends.

"And so for someone who's a mom, you're raising kids, involved in their activities, sometimes when you take that step and do something you don't think you can do, it just makes you feel good," said Julie Hartman.

Hartman was never into exercise until a trip to Disney World a few years ago inspired her to start walking half marathons.

"The wheelchair athletes came through and I think that's a real inspiration because you see people overcoming a lot of difficulties, and you think, 'Hey, I ought to get off the couch and do something too,'" said Hartman.

Now Julie's a walking veteran woman and an avid collector of medals commemorating her journey.

"This year we did the Disney World half marathon," said Hartman. "We always have our eye on the next race, and these medals are so beautiful. They're fun to collect, so they're kind of an inspiration too."

And Julie has become an inspiration in her own right.

"When we first did our long walks, she would get me going a little further and I'd think, 'I'm never going to do this,' and week after week I'd say, 'Hey, I don't feel so bad after this 7-mile walk,' and she'd say, 'Great, it's time to up the ante!'" said Julia Miller.

First friends because of their daughters and Girl Scouts, now Julie and Julia are training partners.

"It's a way to have a group of friends that aren't just your children's mother or husband's friends' spouses," said Mary Louise Bauman. "This is something that is your own hobby."

"Having a training partner, having a person depending you to be out in the rain, the snow, the ice," said Susan Fryman. "We've been out in it all."

Through training groups at Bob Ronkers' Running Spot, the women have met lots of people who share their walking passion.

"More than anything we offer support and a lot of times its moral support," said Chris Reis, manager of the Running Spot in O'Bryanville.

"The half has really spiked in pop over the last 3, 4, 5 years," he said. "I think it's more manageable. It's challenging and hard, it's attainable."

More and more marathons across the US are adding half marathons. Cincinnati's own Flying Pig saw a 22 percent increase in sign-ups this year.

That's not the case in Europe.

"We were always gonna do the half, never a whole we weren't that stupid until we went to Venice," said Bauman.

Good thing they did. That's where Fryman met her husband, marathon runner Cliff Jennings.

"A lot of times the husband does one thing and the wife does another," said Jennings. "We're starting out the marriage doing things together."

"Our invitation said we're in it for the long run," said Fryman.

They married at the Las Vegas half marathon last December.

"We all ran together and some people renewed their vows. We had the running reverend with us. We were escorted by the running 'Elvis.' And then after the ceremony, on we went with the race," said Jennings.

Susan and Cliff discovered love. Mary Louise has discovered a camaraderie not found anywhere else.

"You don't get it at the PTA," said Bauman.

And Julie discovered something in herself.

"Before every race I get nervous, I feel like I can't do it, so I made an inspiration bracelet, so I can remind myself, you can do it," said Hartman. "Just getting to the start line for me was a big deal because I'd never done anything like this."

Running USA says women are training programs are two big reasons why marathons and half marathons are more popular.

If you're ready to give it a try, experts say get a training partner or training group. You might want to pick a warm climate and easy terrain for your first time out.

And do your research; it's a good idea to talk with people who've already walked a run a race you choose.

Copyright 2011 FOX19. All Rights Reserved.