Monday, November 30, 2009

Marathon Woman

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, whereupon Jock Semple, the race director, famously (or infamously actually) tried to pull her off the course mid-race. Since then women across all sports have benefited from her commitment to getting women's sports the recognition, respect and participation level (growing every year by leaps and bounds). You can read all about it in her book, Marathon Woman, that I mentioned in an earlier post.

A lesser known fact about of Kathrine is that in November 2009, she was interviewed So, okay, there are reasons why that's fact isn't quite as widely known as her Boston debut. Still, now women (and men, of course!) who are reading this blog, and eventually Run Like a Girl, get to benefit again, from some extra inside insights from one of the goddesses of women's running.

Even if it is only 2 days post Black Friday, I'm not going to give the store away before the book comes out, but here's a bite out of the great conversation we had and the startling instant effect she had on me.

We talked some feminism, no surprise given her resume. From the beginning, Kathrine dedicated herself to getting women into sports and sports into women, so she faced a lot of opposition. "What's up with you women and running?" was not an uncommon question she was asked. Now, some women (many in fact) who consider themselves feminists would walk away from a question that feels so hostile. Or, they might meet it with hostility. Or condescension. I know I might have been (still be) very tempted to fight that fire with fire. In fact, we might consider it our responsibility as a feminist to react in that way. Or, we could sit down and talk to those men. Explain what's up with women and running. After all, what's the goal? A battle, or to share the gift of running (or any other sport) with as many women as possible; which is only going to happen when men are on board, too. It was Kathrine's gift early on to see that alternative and use it to all of our advantages. She's not the first or last person to know this, but she is a great living example of it in action.

Feminism needs to be inclusive of men. It also needs to be inclusive of the broadest range of women. So you want to run, you don't also have to climb trees or be a tomboy (not that either of those things are bad). We know this, all this about having the biggest tent possible and all, and yet...we (or at least I) judge women too often to be "not feminist enough because..." How about this one: Because they are wearing a skirt while running, and how can they be taking it seriously, and why do they need to look girly? That's one of mine, or at least it was until about a week ago. Skirts were fluffy. Running ought not to be. I thought. And yet, as Kathrine pointed out to me, how does running make us feel?--answer: strong, capable, powerful, and yes, sexy. Okay. And how do short skirts make us feel? Do you see where I'm going? They don't have to be mutually exclusive.

As we were heading out to the porch of the hotel where we met in St. Petersberg, at the expo for the Women's Running Magazine Half-Marathon, Kathrine and I stopped by the Running Skirts booth, as they were breaking it down and packing up. Kathrine was picking something up from the two women who ran the company (and also run like the wind). I pretended to be open to the whole notion, smiling politely. They discovered I didn't own a running skirt, and could barely be encouraged to try one on. Well, it fit okay, I thought, raising an internal eyebrow. I tried to give it back. "No, take it," they said (I had that "I'm with someone cool" credibility, and maybe because I'd told them about the book and the message I want to get out to women). I promised, a bit half-heartedly to wear it the next day in the race.

I did. Wow. A strange thing happened. I felt kind of cute, in a fast way (I mean speed, not the other fast that's negatively, and unfairly, associated with women). I felt fleet and sleek, like I had a secret power, hidden retro-rockets under my skirt. Oh right, I felt like a strong woman. This is not an advertisement--but I have to finish the story by saying that the skirt worked its magic. I didn't do the time I wanted. Note to self, our goals should not set us back psychologically when we don't meet them. Every day brings its own challenges. But, I did do well, at least in my own book (9th out of 3276 women). Of course, it wasn't the skirt, not really. But it was the skirt. It was that I had opened myself up to something new--believe me, my friends are still in a bit of shock about the whole skirt thing. I turned my back on my own resistance. I owned my own strength just a little bit more. I credit Kathrine with that; being around her energy, her conviction, and her expansiveness. The ownership she takes of being a woman and an athlete. By the way, she wore a cheetah print running skirt for the race. Pow! Shazam!