of one racing woman, racing women and women having fun
I began racing in 1972, when our school started a track
team. Track was not considered "ladylike", and
I guess most of us were looked on with a bit of curiosity.
Our uniforms were the softball uniforms, complete with
those heavy stiff shorts, and heavy tops. I wore the Adidas
Country, which was green and about the best shoe on the
market. I did have some spikes as well, which I was very
proud of. My mother was dismayed that I was running, and
was sure that I was doing it only to worry her.
It was in the fall, the beginning of my junior year in
high school, that I fell in love with running. It was
a Saturday. I don't know if I was told to do this, or
just decided that I would, but I laced on my shoes, put
on a nice warm sweatshirt and went out for a run. I ran
all the way to the old St. Joseph's Academy and back.
I don't remember how long it was, maybe 6 miles? Anyway,
I was freed that day. I remember the feeling of the cool
crisp air, the sharp smell of the leaves, the sound of
my breathing as I strode along. I don't remember fatigue,
pain or boredom. It was because of that day that I became
a marathon runner.
I did not know at that time that women were not allowed
to run marathons. I did know about marathons. Drake
Marathon was run in Des Moines every April. I remember
watching them struggle past the mall one Saturday, and
thinking, now that would be something to do. I didn't
notice any women, but maybe there were some, I don't know.
This was around 1973 or so.
My first marathon was in 1976. I ran it in cutoff shorts
and a shirt that said "Eat ..it Woody." Woody
was the infamous Woody Hayes, coach of Ohio State University
Football team. We were going to play them in football
soon. Since he was known for his temper, we were sure
he would like our shirts. I wonder if he saw my rookie
performance at the Covered Bridge Marathon in Winterset,
Iowa in October of 1976? I won the race. OK, I was the
only woman. I ran it in 3:13, which isn't that bad. I
couldn't find the finish line at the end, and had to keep
asking spectators where to go. There is this picture of
me looking pretty tired, my hands up, asking where to
go. Definately, the dead mind syndrome of 26 miles. I
kept thinking, when I get done, I can lay down. I am glad
I did not know then about the extreme pain after finishing
a marathon, and that there is no relief to the pain. Laying
down, standing, sitting, it is all pain. Still, this qualified
me for the Boston
Marathon, which I would run the following April.
Although women had run marathons before, it was the infamous
Jock Semple of the Boston Marathon who put us on the map.
And specifically, it was Roberta Gibb, another woman who
didn't think it was such a big deal to run this distance.
The year was 1966. She hid in the bushes until the start
of the race, then ran the race. After finishing in 3:12,
the race denied her that she had run the race, only that
she had run on the same course. The next year, Katherine
Switzer registered as K Switzer and got a number. At the
start, she had her hair up in a hat and a big sweatshirt
on. When the gun went off, she took off the sweatshirt
and hat and started to run. Well, Jock Semple went after
her, yelling at her to stop in the name of the sanctity
of the Boston Marathon, grabbing at her so he could rip
off her number. Today, the lawyers would have a field
day. But it was 1967, and things were different then.
Her boyfriend served as her own personal body guard, as
well as several men running around her, and she was allowed
to finish the race. So she was the first official finisher,
with a number and everything. We should give some credit
to Sara Mae Berman, who did the same thing, but without
a number, so wasn't even official. And to be honest, although
they list both women as running the marathon at those
times, they are not considered official according to the
B.A.A. rules. The first official women's winner was Nina
Kuscsik in 1972. When I ran Boston in 1977, I was unaware
that it was only the 5th year that women were officially
able to run it. Irene Stuber, author of women's biographies,
has an excellent biography on the history
of women running.
It was not until 1984 that women were allowed to run a marathon in the Olympics. This was a very exciting time for women runners. Like many other runners, I attempted to qualify for the Olympic trials. With a PR of 2:57 set several years earlier, I trained like a maniac, putting in well over 120 miles a week (of course, this was the norm at this time anyway). I succeeded, qualifying in for the trials with 3 seconds to spare.
In his book, Olympic Marathon: A Centennial History of the Games Most Storied Race, author Charlie Lovette discusses the history of the women's marathon race. You can read an this chapter on Marathon Guide.
Why is it that women were not allowed to run further
than a mile or so in competition? According to Joan Benoit
Samuelson, winner of the 1984 Women's Olympic Marathon,
"...it was felt that if a woman ran more than a mile,
she would do herself bodily harm and would not be able
to have children."
Well, as Joan, Barb, Heather, Mary, Cindi, Marina, Carol,
Alison, and countless others will attest, running does
not deny you the pleasure of motherhood, or of sexuality.
In fact, most of these women will say that running allows
you to be the parent you should, and the partner you want
to be by empowering you and setting you free. It is what
keeps us alive. Thank goodness for the pioneers. Their
inspiration reached us all and released us. If you have
things to add, and I'm sure you do, send me your submissions,
or respond in the message board. I'm sure we all have
something to add on this subject!