Wednesday, April 8, 2009

12 Days to Boston Marathon: Breaking and Entering

Credit: AP/Wideworld Photo
For the 12th random fact surrounding the Boston Marathon, I didn't know where to start. (And note to self: Don't talk to your sister at the same time, all thoughts go out the window.) Top racers over the years? Random facts about the winners like the last American to win or the year the course distance fell short? I had brainstormed several ideas while writing about the weather--more by accident they popped into my head as I poured over race history details--but couldn't narrow it down to just one. Until I decided to honor the women, those competitors in the race who couldn't always be a part.

We wouldn't even be able to talk about Kara Goucher toeing the Boston Marathon start line this year, or Deena Kastor and Joan Benoit Samuelson running in past years, without the help of a few pioneers. And Liz and I obviously have to credit these pioneers as well since we've both been fortunate enough to make it to the line, and surrounded by thousands of other women.

I know I shouldn't be surprised by the fact that women were barred from sports competition on a variety of levels just 40 years ago. I'm not trying to go all Title IX here, but I always think I would have been screwed had been born in the time of suffragettes, pre-Rosie the Riveter, or the Victorian Age (forgive me if some of my historical facts are off). But the Olympics have been laden with men-only sports and events, professional sports had the men first and women almost as an after-thought (OK maybe that was just A League of Their Own), and any woman has probably heard the tale of marathon running being dangerous for females and they couldn't put their bodies through an enduring 26.2 miles. So while America's longest-running marathon has been going strong for 113 years, the women have only legally been a part going on 38 years.

Legally is the key word here. Part of my favorite part of Boston lore are the sneaky, but sweet, ways women made it into the race in the 1960s. The first woman to make it to the line? Roberta Gibb in 1966. But while Boston history recognizes her as the first female in the race, she never ran with a bib number in the three year's she participated, '66, '67 and '68. Nope, Gibb hid in the bushes until the race started and then emerged to start running--and she did finish each time.

Then there's Kathrine Switzer, whose name often sticks out as the female first at Boston. Or at least that's how I associated her name. And that's because in 1967 Switzer was the first woman to receive a bib to run the race, as registered runner K.V. Switzer. Marathon officials tried to pull her off the course once they realized that K.V. was not a male runner, and her time is recorded as an unofficial 4:20. She tells the story best in this excerpt from The Spirit of the Marathon--Switzer also notes the participation of some other female bandits in years succeeding her run.

The problem females faced with entering the marathon stemmed from the AAU--Amateur Athletics Union--which did not formally accept women participants in long distance running. They finally started to allow female entries into its sanctioned marathons in the fall of 1971, and by 1972, eight women started the Boston Marathon and eight finished. And Nina Kuscsik became the first official female finisher--according to Switzer she was a bandit in prior years.

Not only did these women pave the way for Boston participation, but marathoning in general. I'm always fascinated at the facts that show the grow in marathon partcipation numbers, specifically in the women completing the feat, where it's growing closer to becoming a 50-50 split between guys and gals. And if all of the registered women do in fact make it to Beantown for this year's marathon, more than 10,000 of the registered 25,000 runners (approximately) will be women.

That leads me to two more facts involving women that will be coming...Rosie Ruiz and Nancy Rollins, who'll be racing on April 20 and one really cool Chicagoan. Well, Nancy's from Evanston, just north of the city, but I digress. Photo grabbed from kathrineswitzer.com. Posted by Kate

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