A recent post on Traxee about Kathrine Switzer and the Women on the Move conference caused me to wax nostalgic on the progress women’s running has made over the last 30 years. So, this evening I got out one of by favorite books – Jim Fixx’s classic, The Complete Book of Running.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. But this book has a very special place in my heart. First published in 1977, the year I graduated from high school, The Complete Book of Running hit the stands 10 years after Katherine Switzer’s famed attempt to officially run the Boston Marathon and predates by two years the Carter Administration’s policy interpretation of Title IX.
I don’t think I’ve looked at this book in 15 years. So I instinctively turn to the chapter called The Mythology of the Woman Runner – Why She Usually Gets More Out Of Running Than She Expects, and it’s here that I find a paragraph that strikes me:
Far from being inferior to men as runners, there are certain distinct ways in which women excel. Their running style is likely to be tidier and more economical than men’s. “Women seem to run with greater ease than men,’” writes Thaddeaus Kostrubala in The Joy of Running. “Their style is easy. The natural style of most twelve-to-fourteen-year-old girls is almost perfect…they roll their feet, their pelvises move. They look at ease and ready to play; in fact, they are playing. Is all this because they have not been the victim of male cultural expectation – that of competition?”
I read this paragraph a couple of times and consider its implications.
It seems incredible now, but at the time Fixx’s book was published, only 5% of road race participants were women. Today, that figure is about 49%.
A lot of us come to this sport through training for a charity marathon with friends…and we stay with it because of the way it makes us feel.
Back when Fixx wrote The Complete Book, many physicians thought that running was dangerous to women’s reproductive systems (this was used as a justification for keeping women out of races like Boston), and it was commonly thought that women were “naturally” non-competitive.
I guess we’ve exploded a lot of those old myths over the last 30 years.
I was talking to one of my marathon training buddies who’s about 24 years old. She literally couldn’t believe that women were once kept out of this sport…”Thirty years isn’t THAT long ago,” she said. And she’s right, it isn’t.