Marathon Woman: A Review of Kathrine Switzer's Memoir
I started running in college, and it's a very uncompetitive, casual sport for me. I'm not fast, and I don't try to be. When I race, I simply want to finish. Maybe PR if I can.
This book makes me want to run more than I do, and makes me want to set goals that I never set for myself before. Much in this book made my jaw drop. I enjoy my restful and lazy days, but reading about the life of Kathrine Switzer makes me think I'm enjoying far too many of those days. Her push for the inclusion of the women's marathon in the Olympics started with the simple notion in college that she wanted to run the Boston Marathon to see if she could. Medical experts in the 60's were telling women their uteruses would fall out if they ran that far. Yet Kathrine ran with the men on her track team and thought, if they can do it, I can do it. And she challenged her coach to train her for a marathon the same way he would train one of the men.
When she signed up for the Boston Marathon in 1967, she used her initials, K.V. Switzer. She was given an official race number, the first woman in history to have one. She ran with her coach, her boyfriend and another man. The fellow runners encouraged her and told her how wonderful it was to have her there, many asking, "Are you running the whole thing?" She had done it in training, and knew she could. The moment feels like the climax of the novel when a race official, incensed at the sight of a woman in his all-male race, dives at Kathrine from the sidelines, attempting to rip off her numbers and eject her from the race. A reporter catches the entire scene in a series of snapshots as her boyfriend, a hammer thrower, puts his body weight into the official, sending him flying back and allowing Kathrine to continue on, though somewhat shaken. She had no intention of angering anyone or deceiving anyone. She just wanted to run.
And she did. She finished and showed the world that women could run the marathon, too, and in decent time. Life changed for Kathrine after that fateful day in Boston. She knew she wanted to help other women achieve what she had achieved: opportunity.
The rest of her life has been spent pursuing that goal. In the process, she helped create several races, including the New York City Marathon and the Avon Marathon circuit, among others. She won the New York City Marathon in 1974, and eventually broke the three-hour mark. Her career in journalism took her all over the world, researching, spreading the word about the need for a women's Olympic marathon, and creating races for women in nearly every continent in the process.
The true climax of the novel brought tears to my eyes as Kathrine sat in the announcer's booth during the first-ever women's Olympic marathon, relaying the story of Joan Benoit (now Joan Benoit Samuelson) winning the gold in 1984. Kathrine's hard-fought battle was won, and it was a win for all women.
I had the pleasure of meeting Kathrine in person at the Women's Half Marathon race expo two years in a row now. She is an incredible and beautiful person, inside and out. Click the "Books For Runners" link to see pics from when I met her.
Marathon Woman is a fire starter. This well-written memoir had me laughing, crying, and wishing that I was doing more to show my appreciation for something that I take for granted: I can sign up for nearly any race that I want, so long as there's no qualifying time requirement. I achieved this opportunity in great part because of her.