That special rite of fall road running, the Twin Cities Marathon, will set out for the 35th time from Minneapolis to St. Paul on Sunday. And it’s the women coursing down John Ireland Boulevard to the finish line at the state Capitol who are an increasingly big part of the race’s story.

About 14 percent of the finishers were women at the inaugural 1982 Twin Cities Marathon, or 485 runners. That has increased nearly every year since, peaking at 45 percent two years ago.

Women’s rise at the Twin Cities Marathon mirrors a national trend, too. Women have consistently represented a higher makeup of total U.S. marathon finishers and hit a record-high 44 percent in 2015, according to a survey by Running USA, an organization that tracks the sport.

“More women have come into the sport over the years, and it has become more competitive,” said Pat Goodwin, a past president and board member of the Twin Cities Marathon. Goodwin is one of those women, having run her first Twin Cities Marathon in 1983 and finished at least a dozen more over the years.

The women’s winning times in the Twin Cities have trended faster since 1982. The average winning time in the 1980s was 2 hours, 34 minutes, 13 seconds. Since 2010, the average winning time is about three minutes faster. Goodwin sees a natural progression – more women racing, more times improving – but there is a broader context.

The gender equality of Title IX has allowed more women to compete over time, said Goodwin, who has the pulse of the running scene as founder of Team USA Minnesota. The women’s marathon became an Olympic sport in 1984, energizing more competitive participation, too.

As for the Twin Cities race, it hosted the U.S. masters marathon championship for 25 consecutive years, ending in 2015. Year-in and year-out, the marathon was a magnet for stalwarts age 40 and older among the fields, who consistently ran fast times and, in the case of women, took it up a notch.

We also looked at detailed data on the finishers from the 2015 marathon to get a better sense of who is running and how they're doing. 

With 8,543 finishers, last year's Twin Cities Marathon was the ninth-largest in the country. If you're planning to be at the finish line near the State Capitol in St. Paul to see the winner, better get there by the 2-hour mark (marathon starts at 7:55 a.m.). But if you'd like to see hundreds of people crossing at the same time, be there at the four-hour mark.

All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico were represented in the 2015 field. Minnesota had the most among states with 7,768 entrants (and a little over 5,800 who finished). The state with the next highest number of finishers was Wisconsin, with just over 500.

Runners last year spanned the age spectrum, but one-third were in their 30s. Nationally, the median age for female marathoners was 35, according to Running USA. For men, the median age was 40.

Data Drop is a weekly feature that uses data analysis and visualizations to explain, surprise, inform and entertain readers on topics relevant to Minnesotans. Do you have an idea you'd like us to explore? Contact MaryJo Webster