The photo is from 1972. Taken by Patrick A. Burns of the New York Times, it depicts six women sitting at the starting line of the New York City Marathon. And that’s how my history lesson began.
Of course, I knew about the Roberta Gibb Boston bandit run in 1966, in which she became the first woman to complete Boston. “I hadn’t intended to make a feminist statement,” she said. “I was running against the distance.” Followed by the infamous Katherine Switzer run with the help of Syracuse teammates throwing body blocks on race officials trying to stop her, the debate was pretty much over on whether 26.2 would make your uterus fall out.
I’ve always thought of them as the heroes of pioneering marathon equality. But then today I saw this photo.
The year was 1972. Talya Minsberg, a New York Times reporter who will be in the race field tomorrow, tells the story. The New York City Marathon was gaining popularity, and the race had grown to a massive field of over 250 runners (despite the steep one dollar entry fee). The course was run entirely in Central Park. The race was notable in that six women were in the field. This was the first year women were allowed in the race.
Five years after Ms. Switzer’s Boston run, the AAU had finally deemed that women would be allowed to take part in distance road running. The caveat: They would be required to start 10 minutes before or after the men, or at a different area altogether. Girl cooties, you know. Can’t be too careful.
So New York decided to start the women 10 minutes before the men. The women lined up, the gun went off.
And the women sat down.
They sat holding signs. “Hey AAU. This 1972. Wake up.” and “the AAU is Archaic.”
And there they sat for 10 minutes, till the gun went off for the men. Equality was born. I assume they didn’t start their Garmins still the men’s race bagan.
Minsberg says Nina Kuscsik, one of the six, became the first woman to finish the New York City Marathon that day. She called the win “an important one, because it was official.”
I find myself shaking my head that this was ever a thing. With women such a dominant force in running these days, how was this ever a controversy? Maybe it just takes getting dropped by a female in a tutu who smiles as she’s passing you while laying down a 6:15 mile to understand.
My own experience came in the early ’80s. My roommate Mickey had gotten the running bug from me and we went together to the Run in the Sun, San Angelo’s biggest 8K. Mickey was wearing a tank top, cutoff blue jeans and an old pair of adidas. He was a fairly gifted runner who didn’t see why training was essential. I asked him what his goal was. “I don’t care where I finish,” he said, “but no women are going to beat me.”
Mickey had his awakening that day, finishing with his tail firmly planted between his legs, and never made that statement again.
I have had so many heroes over the years. Helen Klein, Ann Trason, Joan Benoit, Lauren Fleshman, Gumbo, Sabrina Little. But I don’t think of them as women, although I suppose technically they are, except for the no uterus thing. It’s easy to forget the path so many fought to get them to where they are, able to kick butt without worrying about whether some guy in a suit deems them worthy.
They’re not female runners. They’re just runners.
I hope the 25,000 women in the race (and as KRG wisely points out, the 25,000 men), think about the pioneers as they cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge tomorrow. In a time of pussy hats and #metoo, the fight is never over. But I guess victories are where you find them. NYC is a good place to look.
The race is 26.2 miles long. The struggle is a lot longer. Never, ever hit the wall.