The Women's Distance Festival Grand Prix Series, which begins with the Howard County Striders' race at midnight Friday at Columbia Mall, is a string of 10 races in Maryland and Virginia from July to September in which local women compete for points and a chance to run in the TAC National Women's 8-kilometer Championships, all expenses paid, in Alhambra, Calif., Oct. 27.

At one time, all of the nation's running clubs were asked to hold a women-only event on the same day. But this year the concept has been expanded to regional series. Women in this area may count their four best performances in the 10 races, with prizes going to the top five overall, the top three over 40 and the best runner under 19. The Alhambra trip is the grand prize.

The primary purpose of the series, however, is to attract women to the sport of running. Most of the participants this summer will be novices, according to the organizers.

"Quite often, women feel intimidated by mixed races or running clubs, they feel they're not fast enough, that they can't be a racer," said Kari Schnyer, president of the Montgomery County Road Runners. "They don't realize there's more to the sport than that. . . . A lot of the reason women compete is to build self-confidence, and we definitely are breaking stereotypes down."

For many women, the recent performance of Ann Trason, who beat men and women in becoming the national 24-hour ultra distance running champion in February, is inspiring.

Women-only races also create a special feeling for participants. "When I see other women in front of me in regular races, I ignore the men and chase the women and it's just a different feeling in all-women races," said Carol Rivera, the Maryland representative to the Road Runners Club of America.

JULY 13

LOCATION, TIME: Columbia Mall, midnight.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Howard County Striders; Lisa Lowe, (301) 964-2681.

JULY 14

LOCATION, TIME: South Lakes High School, 8 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Reston Runners; Ken Knapp, (703) 620-0652.

JULY 15

LOCATION, TIME: Union Mills, Md.; 8:15 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Westminster RRC; Linda Galinaitis, (301) 857-5427.

JULY 21

LOCATION, TIME: West Annapolis Elementary, 8 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Annapolis Striders; Jenny Spivac, (301) 263-1126.

JULY 22

LOCATION, TIME: Goucher College, 8 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Baltimore Road Runners; Bob Feldman, (301) 665-6563.

AUG. 25

LOCATION,TIME: Buddy Attick Park, Greenbelt, 8 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: P.G. Running Club; Ann Wass, (301) 699-1477.

SEPT. 8

LOCATION, TIME: Fort Hunt Park, Alexandria, 8:30 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Washington RunHers; Nina Trocky, (202) 387-1323.

SEPT. 8

LOCATION, TIME: Frederick Country Club, 9 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Frederick Steeple Chasers; Sharon Ford, (301) 663-1062.

SEPT. 22

LOCATION, TIME: Rocky Gap State Park, Cumberland, 9 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Queen City Striders; Linda Yockus, (301) 724-2464.

SEPT. 23

LOCATION, TIME: Ken-Gar Recreation Center, Kensington, 8 a.m.

CLUB, RACE DIRECTOR: Montgomery County Road Runners; Anna Berdahl and Kari Schnyer, (301) 353-0200.