Competitive runners

Competitive runners (Bill Grove/E+ Photography via Getty Photo)

Members' accomplishments are logged on the club websites in a listing called "The Asylum."

The founders — or Main Maniacs, as they refer to themselves — all rank at the club's highest levels.

Yee, the club president, has run more than 300 marathons and once recorded 57 in a year. Warren has finished more than 200 marathons, and his record is 53 in a year. Phillippi is approaching 200 marathons, but a stress fracture kept him from reaching the club's highest level. He's at the second highest-level, having completed 42 marathons in a year.

The club debuted with a website in 2003 and got its first member, Terry Watanabe, the next day.

"But, really, it was slim pickings at first," Yee said.

At the end of the first year, the club had 64 members. Even after three years, membership was only 294.

Phillippi said running publications were hesitant to write about the Maniacs because it was so widely believed running so much could be dangerous. "People were supposed to run maybe four marathons in a year," Phillippi said. "We've totally disproved that."

In 2007, membership began to soar, with an average of more than 1,000 new members each year. Phillippi credits social media and the bright yellow club singlets members sometimes wear at races.

Phillippi, Warren and Yee launched the Half Fanatics in 2009. Requirements, levels and dues ($10 per year after $35 for the first year) were the same.

The club now averages more than 1,000 new members per year.

"Eventually, it will pass the Maniacs," Phillippi said, "because so many more people run halves."

Yee believes both clubs are intriguing to people and will continue to grow.

"We are in a second or third running boom," Yee said. "Americans want to get fitter, and more people are doing more challenging things like climbing mountains. And some of those people are choosing to run a lot of marathons. And there are so many more (races) to choose from now. You can find a run almost every weekend."

Working up to it

As an overachiever, Sabrina Seher, 34, was intrigued by the Maniacs.

"I've always been go, go, go," said the mother of 5- and 9-year-old girls.

She ran marathons in Portland, Ore., and San Francisco in 2010 to earn her membership in the Maniacs. Seher reached Level Six by running four marathons in four days.

"As a mom, it's something I can do and still have my family," said Seher, who sometimes takes her family running with her. "And it's something for me so I don't lose my identity.

"You hit walls, but you slowly get your body to accept more miles. You build up until a half marathon feels easy, then you keep working until running a marathon feels pretty easy."

But, while both she and Zimmerman are motivated by seeing their times drop and their fitness level rise, they agree that this isn't even the best benefit of membership.

"It's the camaraderie," Seher said. "You don't have to be fast. While there are a lot of people who run fast, most aren't out there for speed as much as they are to have fun and get some exercise. You'll see people taking pictures, walking and talking. It's a running party."