Friday, August 23, 2013

Marathon Woman

In case you missed it, I'm currently in the throes of training for the 2013 Chicago Marathon. This will not be my first marathon. It will be my third. But, if you'd asked me after either of my others, I would've told you that I would not do another one.

As I stared at my blackened toenails and hobbled gingerly down all flights of stairs after my first one in Dallas, I swore up and down that I was a one-and-done marathoner.

Feeling victorious ...

but, completely dead after the Big D in 2006.

Then, I had a couple kids, and felt the need to prove to myself that I could still do it. So, I signed up for another one. This time, I swore 'round about mile 24 of the Route 66 marathon in Tulsa, OK, that I would never do this to myself again.

With Sarah, who I peer pressured into running. That was it for me. I was done in 2010.

Well, it's three years later, and somehow I got peer pressured into signing up for another one. This time in Chicago. I was excited about going on a trip with my girlfriends, but the daunting training miles and 26.2 race miles were not all that exciting for me. Don't get me wrong, I would do it, but I wouldn't be super happy about it.

So, with all these training miles and running constantly on my mind, I happened across a blog that mentioned the autobiography of Kathrine Switzer. Switzer is the first woman to run with a number in the Boston Marathon in 1967. She's also the woman made famous by this series of pictures:

Switzer being chased by race director Jock Semple who was yelling, "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!"
Although she'd officially registered, she'd done so using her initials, K.V., so they didn't know she was a woman. Race officials, clearly, were not happy when they found out, as women weren't supposed to run. I'd heard of this story before and knew of Switzer, but didn't know a ton about her. So, of course I was intrigued by the thought of a book by her. 

I tried to find it at our library, but they didn't have it. I then discovered this handy-dandy interlibrary loan thing, where our library will borrow books from other libraries around the country if it doesn't have a book you want. This is not related to the story, but I just wanted to put it out there in case you didn't know about this awesome service. I got the book in three days and picked it up from my local library. It was a sweet deal.

You know all those little blurbs that you are supposed to fill out about yourself on Twitter or Goodreads or wherever? On those short, little "about me" sections, I often write "wife, mother, runner, reader." These are the things that are important to me. Now, take away family and you've got runner and reader. I love to do both. So, books about running, I mean that's right up my alley. But, you throw in history and strong women, which are my favorite things to read about, well, let's just say this book was made for me.

The book probably wouldn't be classified as a page-turner, but I, for one, couldn't stop reading it. While pouring through this book, I kept stopping to tell Cory something unbelievable I'd read. (I also told many unsolicited anecdotes to my running girlfriends on our long runs. Sorry, girls!) I love history, but this is not ancient history. Women were not allowed to run in the Boston Marathon in 1967. That is not that long ago, guys. In fact, women weren't officially allowed until six years later in 1973. That is a mere seven years before I was born!

Switzer also talks about the fact that women's basketball had different rules than men's basketball in order to cut down on the amount of running involved. In the 60s, women had six players on a team and were allowed only three dribbles and weren't allowed to cross the center line. A women's basketball coach said at the time that women would never be allowed to play "men's" basketball because the excessive number of jump balls could displace the uterus.

In fact, although the women's 800 meters was finally allowed in the Olympics in 1928, it was removed again after the top three racing women ran so hard that they "tumbled breathlessly into the infield" after the finish (as you do after running all out for a half mile). It was not added back into the Olympics until 1960, but any distance longer than that was not even considered.

Switzer talks about what all her friends and detractors used to say to her about women running. She was told that she would get big legs, grow a moustache, turn into a man or turn into a lesbian. All just from the simple act of running. And, a marathon? Women just weren't capable of running that distance. That was a simple fact.

The lasts half of Switzer's book focuses on her efforts, along with a lot of others, to get the women's marathon added to the Olympics. The amount of work, time and effort that it took to get something that I take for granted as a natural part of the Olympics is amazing. It was added in 1984 in Los Angeles. 1984?!?! I was alive and toddling around when this happened, people.

Not only is it amazing that Switzer, and other women at the forefront of women's running, changed what it was perceived that women could do, but they did it while literally running in men's shoes. While I'm the first to admit that running shoes have gotten way prettier even since I've been running, it never occurred to me that there was a time when you couldn't buy women's running shoes. Running shoes didn't even really exist, but any kind of shoe for exercising was made for a man, along with the clothes. Switzer writes about testing out different clothes to wear (including a leotard and tights) because shorts were made for men and they didn't fit women's bigger hips and thighs. These early women runners were pioneering everything!

One day, while reading this book, I told Molly what I was reading about. "I'm reading a book about a woman who was one of the first women to run in marathons. Did you know that girls didn't used to be allowed to run?" "Why?" Molly asked. "Because they didn't think girls could do it." "That's not fair," Molly said. "Girls can run! You can run. I ran a 5K." Then, Charlotte piped up, "I ran a 5K, too!"

"Yes," I told them. "You both can run, and I can run. People were just silly back then."

This book was the perfect choice to read during this marathon training. I have never felt so inspired and grateful just to be able to do what I love. I love that my 3-year-old and 6-year-old girls know that running makes you strong, and does not make you grow a moustache. I love that more women than men now run road races in the US. I love that this thing that I love to do was made possible by the strength of women runners before me.

It may sound cheesy, but this book made me proud to be a woman, a runner and a mother. It makes me happy to show up on Sundays for my long, long training runs. It makes me excited for October 13, 2013. I will be there because the women before me fought and proved us all capable. Our triumph is their triumph and their triumph was ours before we even knew it.

Seriously, get this book. It's that good.

My prides and joys. Running with two strong girls who will never be told they can't run because they are girls.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool! I remember her from both the Spirit of the Marathon movies. I may have to read this as well.

    Did you know you can also ask the library to buy a book that they don't have? My mom has done that several times, and they almost always do it--then you get to be the first one who checks it out.