In 1967, Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon. She was a runner, so that’s not so surprising. The shock was that she was a woman. Women were not allowed to run marathons. It was a man’s sport. When the media saw a woman on the course, they started mocking the race director about a “girl” registering for their race. He got so mad, he tried to pull her off the course. Her boyfriend stopped that by blocking him. She finished the race with an official time… but not as a woman. Women were not officially allowed to register for the Boston Marathon until 1972. I was in the 6th grade. Can you imagine? In my lifetime, women were not allowed to run marathons. (To read Katherine’s story, click here.)
I was in Arkansas getting a pedicure last year, and the woman who was doing my nails was talking to me about running. Everytime I get a pedicure, my running comes up. It does a number on your feet. She said she would like to run, but her gynecologist told her that running would make her uterus fall out. I had heard that the medical world used to believe this, but I had not ever REALLY heard evidence of it. I wanted to tell her to get a new doctor because he was obviously a quack, but that’s not really any of my business. And, who knows, it may just be an excuse not to run.
I did not have to step over any uteri on the Memphis Half Marathon race course yesterday, so I’m assuming the inevitable didn’t happen to any women yesterday. Although, maybe the actual “falling out” only happens around mile 17 or so of the full marathon. Maybe they have people whose job is to clean up the uteri after a marathon. I may have to check into this. The woman that won the women’s division yesterday ran 26.2 miles in 2:37:10. Surely, her uterus is gone in a cloud of dust and blood. I’m making fun of this, but the fact was that no women had run marathons, so who was to dispel the theory? I imagine that women were at home using their uterus to carry babies so they didn’t really have time to run. And, it takes a lot of training time to get in shape for 26.2 miles.
Running USA does an annual marathon report, and in 2011, 41% of marathon participants were women. We’ve come a long way. And, it’s also interesting to note that runners over 40 comprised 46% of the field. This sport is not only accessible to women, but it’s a great way for a mid-lifer to accomplish something that is very meaningful and challenging.
Colleen Cannon, a World Champion triathlete in her younger days, made a living helping athletic wear companies market to women. I remember when I first started running around 1980, all of the running clothes were men’s clothes. I would wear gym shorts and t-shirts, usually all cotton. When they finally started making women’s athletic clothing, it was black, red, white or blue, or some combination. I don’t like those colors. I like pink, red, purple, yellow, teal and all sorts of combinations. Colleen worked with several companies to help them understand that they need to make more feminine looks and use different colors. Now, “fashionistas” make up a large part of the running field in marathons. There were some really cute skirts in yesterday’s field! I loved them!
We have come a long way as women in the running community. It’s really shocking now to think that we weren’t always welcome or a part of it. Yesterday, my friend Shelly ran her first marathon in her 40th year of life. I ran my first in 2009 at 48. It is definitely a challenge. It takes a lot of commitment. It hurts. It feels great. It is one of those things that I am most proud of in my life. And, its really accessible to anyone these days. If you want to do it-no matter your size, your age, your physical fitness, your financial status- you can do it. Find the right coach, get off the couch, and put one step in front of the other. We’ve come a long way, baby….you can always go another 26.2 miles.