When Oprah Winfrey crossed the finish line and fulfilled her vow to complete a marathon just before her 40th birthday, she created a mantra for female runners that still lingers 15 years later: "If Oprah can do it, I can do it." But if the thought of logging 26.2 miles (that's like going from German Village to Delaware) is too daunting, there is a much more realistic running goal for women - the 5K, or 3.1 miles.

"For those just starting to run, the old saying of 'You have to walk before you run' applies here," said Rhonda Reese, a 50-year-old track and cross country coach at Centennial High School. "And that's what the 5K is compared to a marathon."

Training for a marathon can take over one's life for months - even years - and leaves beginners far more susceptible to injury. Five kilometers, however, is a challenging yet achievable distance for those who want to pursue a running goal in five to 10 weeks.

About 30 years ago, women represented less than a quarter of the nation's running population. Now they account for about half of the country's estimated 40 million runners, according to USA Track & Field, which governs long-distance running and race walking in the United States.

Reese started running about 35 years ago and has completed nine marathons, along with hundreds of other races. But like most runners, she started with a 5K. "What Oprah did was uplifting, but the thought of making it over 26 miles is unrealistic for most," Reese said. "But completing a 5K is a truly realistic achievement for almost anyone who commits to it."

Training Tips Consult your family doctor and sign up for a physical before training. Select a 5K that suits your personality. Choices abound, from small races for those who don't like crowds to major events with hundreds of spectators cheering on runners. You can also pick a race based on a cause you support. Pick the right shoes. If you're just starting out, go to a specialty running store and have an expert show you what works best for your body. And race in the same shoes you train in; don't buy new shoes for race day. Recruit a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker to train with you. That support will carry you on days your body doesn't feel like running. Vary your running routes to keep your brain (and body) from boredom: Pick a neighborhood street to run one day, a park the next and a trail after that. Race Day Tips Don't overeat the night before or morning of the 5K. There is no need to "carbo load" on pasta or eat a big breakfast for a three-mile race. Warm up for at least 10 minutes before the race begins. Use the same stretching routine or other warm-up rituals as during your training. At the race's start, remember two words: slow down. The biggest beginner's mistake is starting too fast, and then being miserable by the second mile. Lower your expectations. Don't get caught up in achieving a certain time for your first race. Enjoy yourself, and make the goal running without stopping, but do it at a comfortable pace. Warm down for at least 10 minutes following the race, allowing your muscles to cool down without tightening or cramping. Central Ohio Races

Feeling inspired? Here's a sampling of local 5Ks you can choose from.

July 4 in Hilliard: July 4 Hilliard Rotary 5K (UltraFit-USA.com) July 18 in Columbus: Nationwide Better Health Columbus Sports Festival 5K (FatRabbitRacing.com) July 24 in Columbus: World Famous Pig Run 5K (Active.com) August 1 in Columbus: Ohio State Fair 5K (Active.com) August 16 in Dublin: Columbus Half Marathon and 5K (Active.com) August 22 in Westerville: Kenneth Gartrell Multiple Myeloma 5K (Active.com)

Or double the distance and walk!

The New Albany Walking Classic, a 10K on Sept. 13, is the largest walking-only race in the country. (NewAlbanyWalkingClassic.com)