In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon despite being attacked by a race official who tried to physically pull her out of the race. To quote Ms. Switzer from one of her many interviews reflecting on the moment, “The perceptions of women back when I was running — amazingly enough just 53 years ago — were that you were going to get big legs, grow hair on your chest, and your uterus was going to fall out.”
Fast forward to the 21st century, where things aren’t necessarily perfect, but have changed considerably. In a 2019 poll, researchers found that of the 443,878 marathon results recorded for the USA, an amazing 44% – or 196,586 runners – were women. Not only are women running great distances, they are also enjoying careers in the running industry as coaches, store owners, brand ambassadors, authors, and even celebrities in their own right. Ladies: we have come a long way!
There are, of course, challenges that persist and are unique to the female runner. According to our experts at Novant Health, runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis are all more common in women. Women also seem to face an inequitable amount of scrutiny about their body type and appearance, which, in turn, affects running performance. There are the physical and emotional challenges of the child-bearing years and then the inevitable struggle to juggle the responsibilities of career, family and physical fitness. If you know, you know.
One might wonder why women are constantly willing to face these challenges and continue to run. Why are we willing to endure the injuries, the inconvenience, and the societal and psychological pressures? Aside from the obvious connection between activity and health, two more factors drive us to keep going.
The first: Self care
Yes, it’s a quarantine buzz word, but running can provide a much needed dose of sanctuary or a momentary escape from the grind. On the daily to-do list, taking time for ourselves often falls to the bottom. Running, whether for 30 minutes or 2 hours, can be a time to focus on our physical fitness, to improve endurance and agility, and to push the limits of what we can do with our bodies. For many women, running is a time for some much-needed solitude and personal reflection that our busy lives often get in the way of.
The second: Personal connection
Ask a woman runner who her closest friends are, and she will likely name the three people with whom she just entered a race or logged a few miles. We women often find that when we gather for a run, it becomes a time to unload our worries, sympathize with our fellow runners as they unload theirs, and to try to make sense of the world. As women navigate the uncertainty of early adulthood, marriages, babies, child rearing, aging parents, and all of the joys and heartaches in between, they know that it is best done with a support system – which often comes in the form of a trusted running group.
Arguably, the playing field is still far from even. Scholarship dollars, sponsorship opportunities, prize money, audiences, media coverage, etc., all still lag behind. There are women (and men) working daily to advocate for women’s running – and female runners. And while most of us will likely never earn a nickel from our running, it’s important to recognize the impact women can – and do have — on the sport and the industry. Consider this: It wasn’t until the mid 80’s when the first running shoe built specifically for women hit the market. Nearly 20 years after Switzer’s groundbreaking Boston.
And nevertheless, women runners persist.