You've come a long way baby...
I was so excited to read this book. After all, I was raised in the era when Title IX came to fruition. In 1972, an educational amendment was passed which declared:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."Not only education, this amendment extended to sports. Prior to the passage of Title IX, women were not allowed to participate in many sports. Reading this book took me back to those days when the women were discouraged from many sports because they were felt to be too "fragile" to participate. Reading this book brought me back to my own childhood in the early 1970s when the only "sports" I was encouraged to try out for were cheerleading or tennis. How far we've come since then!
The women featured in this book were the pioneers of women's road running. It's hard to believe that it wasn't that long ago that women were banned from running long distance road races. Imagine lining up to run a race and being physically removed from the course or having the finish line blocked by men who refuse to let you run!
Familiar to most runners is the story of Kathrine Switzer and the Boston Marathon. This is one of the 22 stories included in the book. The picture of Kathrine being stopped by race officials is the stuff of legend. But contrary to popular belief, she wasn't the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. The first woman to run Boston was Roberta Gibb.
When Bobbi Gibb applied to run Boston, she didn't know that women weren't allowed to run the race. She applied to run and was denied. The denial letter stated that it was "against the rules" for women to run farther than 1.5 miles. She was told that the marathon distance was "too long" for women. The race officials probably thought her uterus would fall out or something. No matter. Bobbi lined up to run, unofficially, and ran a 3:21:40 marathon, which was promptly denounced by officials. Her finish has since been made "official".
Besides the well-known legends of Switzer and Gibb, Burfoot shares plenty of other inspiring but lesser known stories about the women who paved the path for those of us who run today. My personal favorite was the story of Miki Gorman, who didn't start running until she was 33 years old and set a marathon world record in 1973! She also won the Boston and New York City Marathons in 1977 and won a marathon in her 40s, at the time the oldest woman to do so.
Burfoot does a great job with spotlighting the women who changed women's running. You'll recognize many of the names--Joan Benoit Samuelson, Mary Decker-- but there are several that weren't familiar to me. This book is really a trip through the history of women's long distance running. The only woman he includes that seemed an odd choice to me was Oprah Winfrey. Yes, Oprah's Marine Corps Marathon finish proved to everyone that any woman was capable of running a marathon. Of course, there were the naysayers who had to remind everyone that Oprah's personal trainer ran the race with her. The truth is that Oprah inspired a lot of women to take up running. And yes, a lot of us use Oprah's finish time of 4:29:20 as a time to beat in our own marathons.
Still, that's a minor quibble about what was an excellent read. Since each chapter profiles just one of the 22 women, this book can be read in short bursts. The profiles are well written and I was just fascinated by the stories of all these running pioneers. After finishing this book, I felt a sense of gratitude to the women who went the distance even when they were told they couldn't. As Burfoot says, now, in 2016 over 50% of runners are women, and 40% of marathoners are women.
"So I learned an important lesson: Running isn't just about running. It's about the sense of empowerment you get from going the distance. That empowerment can help you succeed in so many other activities." -Kathrine SwitzerWe've come a long way, baby!
If you want to read more about the First Ladies of Running, there's a Facebook Page linked to the book.
Here's the link up badge! You can find the linkup at the end of this post. The linkup stays live for 2 weeks. Comments stay live forever! Please remember to link back to this post. Try to read and comment on the other reviews. If you want to review a different fitness-related book, please feel free to link those posts up as well. I'm so grateful to all of you who participate in the book club. Let's grow this thing!
Next month we are reading Mark Remy's Runners of North America: A Definitive Guide to the Species. In this book, Remy presents 23 species of runners and gives us the tools to observe and communicate with them. Best known for his Runner's World column "Remy's World" as well as his Dumb Runner blog, Remy takes an irreverent look at running. It's marathon training season and I thought it would be fun to have a humorous book to read. The reviews have been really good! I hope you join us for this one! The review and linkup will go live on July 15.
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