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Gazelle Girl Race refreshes for 2015

In its third year Gazelle Girl Half Marathon makes a few changes, including the start and finish location moving to Calder Plaza, which will allow for more pre and post race activities.

Getting ready to run the race

Training in the winter isn't easy. But this is Michigan and it's what we have to do.

Here are some resources for getting ready for the half marathon and it is ideal for first timers to begin now. If you're running the 5k, you have a few months to chill.

Gazelle Sports provides two training calendars, one for first timers and another for experienced runners.

Priority Health offers two run camps, one in Holland and one in Grand Rapids, that helps runners train for this race and also the 5/3 River Bank Run, which follows Gazelle Girl in May. Camps cost $100 but have some great perks, including a supportive running environment. Camp begins on January 17.

Worried about what to wear for winter running? Here's a fun calculator to help you figure it out.

Running on the Riverside Park bridge

Running on the Riverside Park bridge /Courtesy of Gazelle Sports

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line /Courtesy of Gazelle Sports

Registration is open and more than 800 women are already planning to run one of the Gazelle Girl races. The popular half marathon and 5k are set for Sunday April 19. The date moved around between the first and second years from a Saturday to a Sunday and shifted to a week later. This third Sunday in April date is final and will stay with the race going forward.

One of the changes is the start/finish.

"By suggestion of the City of Grand Rapids, we moved it to Calder Plaza," says Tiler Payne, race director. Calder Plaza is less crowded than Rosa Parks Circle and will give Gazelle Sports, who organizes the race, more space for new, yet to be revealed, pre and post race activities.

The course is returning to something more like the 2013 course through the city and along Riverside Park and back. Flooding on the Grand River in 2013 made it challenging for racers to navigate sloppy grass and flooded paths, but the 2014 course was less visually appealing as it meandered along one of Grand Rapids' industrial parks. "We're working with the city now and won't be able to know the exact route until the snow is gone. But we'll be back by the river. With the new start and finish it all has to be recalculated," Payne said.

Half marathon finishers can look forward to another unique race charm designed and manufactured by local company imua. If bigger bling is an incentive, runners who complete both the Gazelle Girl and the River Bank Run 25k can claim a big finisher medal. 5k finishers get a special pin.

By many measures, the race is a community success. The two races attracted 2,700 runners in 2014 and about 1/3 were first time participants. The race also raised $40,632 for four nonprofits: GROW, the YWCA, Girls on the Run Kent County and Women at Risk International.

"The West Michigan Sports Commission calculated that race had an economic impact of more than a half million dollars. But more importantly, it has created a supportive community for women runners in West Michigan and beyond," Payne says. "There is just something different about an all women's event. The atmosphere is welcoming, fun and friendly. We encourage women to participate with a friend, family member or co-worker to share the joy and the energy with someone they care about."

Before the 2014 race Stacie Behler, group vice president of public affairs and communications at Meijer and executive director of the Meijer Foundation, wasn't a runner. She signed up for the 5k to support a friend who was planning to to run it.

"Before that, I'd not run at all,"Behler says. The friend suffered an injury, but Behler persevered and completed the race.

"It was awesome! I was able to recruit other women, some runners and others not, to do it too," she says. She went on to run the 10k at the River Bank Run and the Grand Rapids Half Marathon last year. She's already planning to run the Gazelle Girl half marathon in 2015.

"I actually love the races, but really just like running. I'm a fairly (ok, really) competitive person, but with running, I never think about winning anything, just doing my best," says Behler. "It's also something that I've found great friendships through. There are so many wonderful people in West Michigan who run and I've developed a fantastic group of women runner friends."

The race is sponsored by Gazelle Sports and Nike.

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