Fight for your right…
There was a time, not all that long ago, when women were denied entry into many things – we fought for our right to vote, we fought for our right to work (and are still fighting for our right to equal pay), we fought (and are still, inexplicably, fighting) for our rights to birth control and reproductive health.
But did you know that women had to fight to be allowed to run in sanctioned marathons as well? And in one case, a fight nearly did happen so that the first female numbered entrant in the Boston Marathon could finish the race, so intent a man was at stopping her progress.
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer, then a college student,entered and completed the Boston Marathon five years before women were officially allowed to compete. She finished in about 4 hours and 20 minutes and ran under the gender neutral name K.V. Switzer.
Race organizer Jock Semple was so incensed at the idea of a woman running “HIS” race that he tried to physically remove Kathrine from the race. He reportedly said “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.”
Kathrine Switzer’s boyfriend Tom Miller was running with her and pushed Semple away, sending him flying, so that Kathrine could run on.
As a result of Kathrine’s run, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) banned women from ALL competition with male runners because they believed the women would mar the competition between the men.
It wasn’t until 1972 that women were welcome to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon first time ever.Kathrine Switzer went on to become the women’s winner of the 1974 New York Marathon, with a time of 3:07:29 (59th overall). Her personal best time for the marathon distance is 2:51:37, at Boston in 1975.
It wasn’t just the U.S. that had issues with women competing at the Marathon level. In ancient Greece, women were forbidden to compete in the Olympic Games. In fact, married women were forbidden even from being spectators at the Olympics. To do so brought them the penalty of death.
It wasn’t until the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that the first women’s marathon took place. American John Benoit Samuelson won the gold, blowing away the field after she broke away from the pack at the 4 mile marker. She sailed across the finish line alone, competitors far behind her and a new era for female distance runners was born.
But why did it take until the 1980s for women to gain mainstream acceptance in the arena of long distance running?
Today it is easy for women to take running for granted but the truth is every time we lace up our shoes and go out for a run it is a privilege that our gender hasn’t always been afforded.
Some men lose sight of the larger picture or perhaps don’t know the history of running as it applies to women. I’ve heard several men comment that there are “too many woman themed races”. Whoa. Calm down there, guys.
Unlike in the past, when women were barred from competing, today’s Diva, Nike Women’s, Tinkerbell, and Princess half marathons do not deny men entry. That’s a huge difference from how women were treated in the sport of running just 40 or so years ago.
All of this is not to prompt us to burn our bras (going braless would be painful on a run!) and put down men. Men are wonderful training partners and friends.
The fact is ladies that lacing up your shoes for a run is a privilege, no matter how fast or slow you feel. Running is a freedom to be cherished and appreciated, even on days when we have bad runs.