Did you know the first female to run the Olympic marathon was in 1984? I only learned this recently and as surprised as I was, subtle reflection proved I wasn’t shocked. None of my grandmothers ran, my mom, stepmom and mother in law were never caught out in the streets before or after work running. Yet I can recall many memories of my father running, at many different ages in life, and sharing stories of how it felt. My father in law completed a marathon at age 30, an achievement he’s still proud of.
In 1967 Kathrine Switzer sneaked her name into an official entry to be able to run the Boston Marathon. An official actually jumped at her and tried to rip her number off during the event, and the press criticised her as she ran and called her a “crusader”. Apparently the ease of thinking anyone can run events like a marathon, has actually only been open to include women in relatively recent times.
When I was in high school we would have to do a 14 minute run around the track at some point every year. Usually the boys wouldn’t be caught walking and the girls wouldn’t be caught breaking a sweat.
That was 20 years ago, and now here we are, a new generation of women and mothers, trying to find the time to run. Are we also taking for granted the impact our participation may have on the next generation and even current society? Perhaps it’s a good thing that’s not at the forefront of our thoughts as our feet pound the pavement and trails. We don’t always need to do things for the betterment of more than ourselves in that moment. Still, the bigger picture is often interesting and is worthy of inspection.
Fun runs are often catalysts, motivators and goals for runners. Set courses and timed events with hundreds or thousands of people going the same direction.
Charity fun runs like the Mothers Day Classic gets groups of women as the primary entrants, raising money for worthy causes like breast cancer research. They even let you run in memory or spirit of others.
There are all female run events that I’ve participated in way back when - Diva 10km and Diva half marathons - where I thought, why do we need to be singled out? Yet here I am, suddenly realising the impact of a female running. Even now, I know more than a large handful of men who’ve run marathons, yet I’m not sure I can recall more than one female who’s done the same.
My husband ran a marathon inspired partly from his dad’s achievement. We’ve talked about how our son might enjoy running fun runs with me as he gets older, and maybe carry on the idea of running a marathon like his father and his father's father before him. Suddenly here I am, thinking, why don’t the smaller runs stand out in people’s minds?
Women’s sport garners far less attention than men, and I’m certainly not looking for a debate on why that is. What I can say is running allows for developing skill and technique, adding gears and gadgets, but it doesn’t require it. It doesn’t require special locations or a minimal skill set, it just requires one foot in front of the other. It’s relatively easy to argue then it’s a starting point for increasing participation in an active lifestyle.
Life is complex, but running is simple. That doesn't make it easy.
Imagine the difference it would be to be raised in a home where mum runs - it’s just something she does. She might do it alone or with friends, it might vary day to day and the time and duration might not be stable. It leaves her sweaty with no wins to brag about. She might finish without makeup, puffed and red in the face. She’s carved a bit of time, and ample energy, to do what was once only normal for men to do. And she might ask for support at the sidelines one day as she runs a race - a “fun run”, with thousands of others and a guarantee not to “win”.
Enjoying fun runs focused on her own achievements because other women have paved the way.
Sometimes that bigger picture looks pretty impressive. It might have seemed she was running for herself, but in the bigger picture she might be running for a lot more. Perhaps my own son will be running a marathon one day, not because it’s what his dad and his grandfather did, but because his parents did.