Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports
By Kathrine Switzer
Da Capo Books
I first met Kathrine Switzer a few years ago. She was in Richmond for a speaking engagement and was the special guest to the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team pasta dinner, and I thought she was amazing. I knew she was pivotal in developing distance running as a woman’s sport, but I didn’t know to what extent she worked to achieve this goal for us. I was also fortunate to meet her again on the course for the Marine Corps Marathon this year!
Her book outlines her love for running, developed at an early age with her father’s encouragement. This translated into other sports for her, but she returned to running, even competing with the men’s team in college. She talks about the transition to long distance running and the mental challenges to completing the marathon distance, even questioning herself if a woman could actually run the distance.
As she began running those long, double digit training runs, she reflected on her thoughts about religion. This quote really resonates with me: “As soon as I began running the distances, I found I no longer had any interest whatsoever in church or organized religion… When I ran, I felt like I was touching God, or God was touching me, every day. So the idea of only finding God one day a week inside a building seemed absurd, when for miles around in open country and wild landscapes I felt God everywhere.” Indeed. The church of the Sunday Long Run. I have definitely experienced these feelings during my long runs. It’s a time of meditation for me; each run is an opportunity to sort out emotions or solve a problem and, if I’m lucky, experience the “runner’s high.”
I think every woman who has tackled the marathon has heard about Kathrine’s inaugural Boston race in 1967, where she herself was tackled by the race director as he tried to pull her off the course! She then ran the race unofficially for a few years until the race director conceded that women deserved the opportunity to legally run the race.
Kathrine’s dedication to training for not only her first Boston, but to subsequent marathons is inspiring. But her dedication to getting the woman’s marathon added to the Olympics is even more impressive. Her career choices, her courage to push boundaries, her ability to overcome bad relationships, her passion for running a sub 3 hour marathon, are all captivating.
I think every runner should read this book. We take it for granted that we have so many opportunities to run great, well organized races, and that women have an equal part in the fun. Kathrine is responsible for this. She was the first race director to include medals, corporate sponsors, water stops, porta-potties in races. She organized women only marathons to prove to the Olympics Committee that women deserved the marathon as an Olympic event. And it’s astounding that the first year for this was in 1984. Kathrine is responsible for making running a sport for everyone, not just for elite runners. And for that, I am grateful.
Seriously. Go buy this book. And if you are inspired to sign up for a marathon after reading it, well, I don’t blame you.