Posted by: Kevin | April 16, 2007

Marathon Thoughts (and a little bragging at the end)

Since the Boston Marathon is being run right now in some of the crappiest conditions imaginable, I thought I’d write about this interesting story in the recent issue of Runner’s World.  It’s the story of Katherine Switzer, the first “official” female entrant in the Boston Marathon.  

She wasn’t really an official entrant because women weren’t allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972.  However, she sent in her entry form signed K.V. Switzer.  The form didn’t ask about gender, so she didn’t volunteer the information. 

Since just about everyone who’s ever written about this has touched upon the great stride this was for gender equality, I won’t bother.  It was a great stride, but what struck me as funny was the reaction of so many of Katherine’s fellow marathoners that day.  First when she showed up at the start line, obviously a female and an official entrant:

As runners jogged past, most kept their nervous eyes ahead, lost in prerace concentration, but plenty did double takes, and when they did I’d smile back or wave a little wave. Yep, I’m a girl, my look back said. Many of these guys turned right around and jogged over, all excited. “Hey! You gonna go the whole way?” “Gosh, it’s great to see a girl here!” “Can you give me some tips to get my wife to run? She’d love it if I can just get her started.”

In other words, most of the other participants were supportive, if they noticed at all.  What struck me as strange was this, where were all of these people when race official Jock Semple tried to forcibly remove Katherine from the race?

Arnie knows this maniac, I thought wildly, as I tried to pull away. The air was filled only with the clicking whirr of motor-drive cameras, scuffling sounds, and faintly, one cameraman screeching something I couldn’t understand. The bottom was dropping out of my stomach; I had never felt such embarrassment and fear. I’d never been manhandled, never even spanked as a child, and the physical power and swiftness of the attack stunned me. I felt unable to flee, like I was rooted there, and indeed I was, because the man, this Jock guy, had me by the shirt.

Katherine was subsequently freed when Tom Miller, her boyfriend, shoulder checked Jock off of the course.  But how many of those other runners, the ones who were so happy to see a woman joining the field, raced past this scene without thinking to lend a hand to Katherine?  How many chose not to get involved?  Did they duck their heads on their way by so as not to attract attention?

I’m asking this question not so much to punish those other runners.  Who knows what went through their minds after all?  Most of them wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to intervene.  Still I wonder at the lack of outrage.  Jock Semple was one loud angry voice against Katherine’s participation in the race.  Yet one loud angry voice was enough to silence a multitude of rational supporters.  This happens everyday in a thousand different situations, Why?

Since I’m already writing about marathons, this seems like a good time to pimp my own recent success at the half-marathon.  I ran the Charlotte Racefest half-marathon on Saturday and finished in 90 minutes and 55 seconds.  This beat my previous personal record for the half marathon by nearly 5 full minutes.  Yes, I kick ass.  In a completely unrelated story, walking has been a painful challenge for the past two days.

Some closing thoughts on the Charlotte Racefest:  The half-marathon course was the hardest 13 mile course I’ve run yet.  Gentle hills in the first half of the race lead to steeper hills in the second half of the race.  The last mile literally kicked my ass.  The course was beautiful, but there weren’t nearly enough spectators.  The post race party and the pre race goodie bag were both pretty weak too.  I’d run in Charlotte again, but probably not this race.

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