How Women are Running Things

Oprah finishes the Marine Corps marathon 1994

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it.” – Oprah Winfrey

Two weeks ago we celebrated International Women’s Day but that’s not the end of it, the entire month of March has been dedicated Women’s History Month here in the United States. We’ve all been inspired by, or impacted upon, men and women, boys and girls alike, either by the women in our lives who lead by example or by those who have gone before us and paved the way for us, girls, to go out there and, each in our own way, conquer the world.

From the days of the suffrage movement to today, women have argued and fought for equal opportunities across the board. This fight has led to the presence of women in almost every echelon of society and have seen them dominate or come close to it in many fields such as sport, education, social justice and the family and gender issues. Even now, we are slowly breaking down barriers and reaching toward a future with no glass ceiling as women have begun to make their presence felt in, what has long been male-dominated fields such as economics, finance, politics, government and technology. I should point out that this is not meant to be disparaging or threatening to our boys and men. If anything, it should be met by a sure and equal response that women need and want male figures to stand and take their rightful place alongside us. This, however, is a topic for another time and place.

For my part, I grew up in the eighties, long after Katherine Switzer, the first woman to complete a marathon – an all-male race back in 1967 – whose registration as K.V. Switzer hid her gender and thus allowed her entry to the Boston Marathon. Nonetheless, I grew up hearing this story and learning of the struggle women faced having to prove that they weren’t fragile or lacked the stamina to compete in the world of running. In fact, women weren’t officially allowed to run the Marathon until 1972 and even then it was twelve years later before they could compete in the Olympics.

Top runners like Grete Waitz, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Gail Devers, Molly Barker, Joan Benoit, Pam Reed, Nicole Deboom, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Catherine Ndereba, Deena Katie, Paula Radcliffe, Shalane Flannigan, Desiree Devila, and Kara Groucher among others have kept women running pertinent and on the world stage. Year after year they clear hurdles and break records and have shown why women have become dominant runners and a force to be reckoned with across the running spectrum, from track and field to the Marathon and beyond. These athletes have inspired the average female, from young girls to moms and/or middle-aged women and everyone in-between, including some celebrities, who are not afraid to hope for more and push their limits, to see that maybe running could be more than just a competitive and elite sport, that it could be a tool to create awareness, motivate change, inspire hope, and make a difference in people’s lives.
“In 1967, few would have believed that marathon running would someday attract millions of women, become a glamour event in the Olympics and on the streets of major cities, help transform views of women’s physical ability and help redefine their economic roles in traditional cultures,” Switzer wrote in an essay http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/15/sports/othersports/15switzer.html for the New York Times in 2007. Going on 11 years later we can safely say that she helped pioneer a movement that continues to have reverberating effects all around us today. Like Switzer, when Oprah Winfrey at the age of 40 finished the Marine Corp marathon in 1994 (after dropping more than 80 lbs), she inspired many women to believe that they didn’t have to be athletes or even runners per se, they just had to be willing to work hard to achieve their dream. In other words, they had to want it badly enough.

Fast forward 2018, we now have more women running than ever before. From track, to road races, to obstacle racing to ultras, the field size of women runners and competitors have grown and even outgrown men in many instances. Just last Sunday, we ran the New York City half marathon (read the recap on my next blog) to the tune of a whopping 21,965 runners, of which 11,077 were women and 10,888 were men. All of that to say, we’re not only making our mark out in the corporate and business world, but we’ve discovered our running strength and are owning it. Progress is here and the future is bright. I’ll end the way I started, with a quote:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Sources: active.com, ny times.com

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