Alright – I know what you’re thinking: “Man, I could really go for some tacos right now.” I know, I feel the same way. But you are also probably thinking to yourself “Feminism and running? Do those two things really even go together?” Well, it turns out that there is indeed a connection between the two. Running is yet another aspect of our history that women have fought to participate in on the same level as our cis male counterparts. Beyond that, running and the fitness industry are marketed completely differently to women than they are to men. So yeah, there are a lot of things that make feminism and running go hand in hand.
First thing’s first, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and what makes me passionate about this subject. My name is Hanna, I’m a 26-year-old feminist, and somehow in young adulthood I went from the least athletic person you could find to someone who actually can call herself a runner. In 2016, I made this ridiculous (but incredibly rewarding) New Year’s resolution to run a half marathon a month. I had run 2 half marathons prior to this, but throughout my life I had never been into fitness, especially running. This goal seemed like something I could achieve, but would take a lot of hard work and determination. I would have to go from casually working out to making it a part of my daily routine. In high school, it took all of my time and energy to try to run just a mile, and here I was willingly trying to run 13.1 of them! However, it all paid off: not only did I complete that goal, but I surpassed it! I ran 13 half marathons, 2 10ks, and 8 “virtual races” in various distances that were mostly for training but still got a medal sent to me (and even better, they were “Harry Potter” themed! Who doesn’t want to run if it’s for Hogwarts swag?!).
When I first started this project, it was just a way for me to feel challenged during the year while doing something that would improve my health and mental wellness. But I had no idea that this goal of mine might never have happened were it not for some incredible women challenging the patriarchy. What was most surprising was it wasn’t even that long ago that many of these runner milestones happened. Here are some of the most important events that happened in women’s running history:
In 1960, women were finally allowed to compete in 5 running events in the Rome Summer Olympics…while their male counterparts had 16 races to choose from. The reason was that women were believed to be too “frail and fragile” to compete in a heavy endurance sport like running. Unfortunately, in 1961 the Amateur Athletic Union banned women from competing officially in any and all US races. A then 19-year-old Julia Chase entered a 6.5 mile race in Chicopee, Massachusetts to challenge the ban. Though she gained attention, people were too focused on how she looked to be bothered with her running. By 1967, runner Katherine Switzer runs under the make pseudonym K.V. Switzer in the Boston Marathon. When officials discovered she was on the course, they attempted to pull her off, but were stopped by her boyfriend from catching her. She did get to finish the race, and in just over 4 hours; she was then, of course, banned from AAU.
Finally, in 1972, the AAU lifts the ban on women registering for marathons…with the caveat that they have a different course start line or time. Women runners wouldn’t take that sitting down! Or they did, rather, at the 1972 New York City Marathon, where all the registered female participants sat down during their “special” start time for 10 minutes until the gun went off for the men to start. From then on, women crushed the running world. One of the pioneer of the female running world was Grete Waltz in 1979 who came in first place for the New York City Marathon, crossing the finish line in under 2 and half hours. She became the first woman in history to run a marathon (for those who don’t know, 26.2 miles) in that time. In 1980, the American College of Sports Medicine acknowledged that no evidence, scientific or otherwise, exists the show a woman can or should not run long-distances; in fact, it’s actually seen as a healthy activity (shocker!!). Once this study is released, women are finally allowed to participate in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Even so, it can be so hard to get the respect you deserve as a woman in sports. Serena Williams is hardly recognized enough for her kickass tennis ability (I mean, 16 grand slams?! How are we not talking about how amazing she is all the time?!). Or how about just last year in Rio with Katie Ledecky. There was an image that went around during the Olympics that can perfectly exemplify what it’s like to be a female athlete. This image features the headline “Phelps ties for silver in 100 fly” – which is surely an impressive feat. But below in non-bold font read “Ledecky sets world record in women’s 800 freestyle.” She set a world-record (and beating her personal record she had set just a few days before in the process) and still is outshined by the man who came in second. It doesn’t matter if you are the best – sometimes you are still seen as less than. We still have a long way to go, even though we have already come so far.
When I decided to start this blog, I knew that women weren’t initially allowed to participate in these games, but I didn’t realize just how close to my lifetime these events happened. Think about it, 1984 is NOT that long ago – and is in fact probably a moment that many of you or your relatives experienced. It took over 20 years of protests, rogue runners, and scientific studies to get the world (re: men) to say “Yeah, ladies! You can totally run with us!” Some of the most badass runners I know are women. It’s not your gender that determines your strength and speed – that comes from training and a drive within. I started to obtain a new love for running, especially in my hometown of Los Angeles. In fact, it was on my mind a lot when running my very first marathon, the Los Angeles Marathon just a few weeks ago. I was making history in my personal life on the very same streets that female runners made history for the world. I was nervous as all hell, but I knew if all of these other women completed this distance before me, then there was no reason I couldn’t either. It was an incredible feeling to be a part of something that women fought so hard to be able to participate in – and crossing that finish line felt so amazing.
Running gave me a sense of control and purpose. There is nothing I love more than pushing myself and losing myself to the beat of the music and the rhythmic steps I take. Running makes me feel good and look good from the inside-out (some of my favorite pictures I have are me with a sweaty face and that ~post run glow~), and makes me feel like I can accomplish anything. And I have my many sisters to thank for helping pave the way for me to even just run in my local races. We still have a long way to go, but I believe the day we are seen and treated as equals are closer to our grasp than we realize. Now is the time for us to push in that final sprint to the finish – it may be hard and feel impossible, but there is nothing more glorious than crossing that finish line. And remember, when you run, always make sure you Run Like A Girl.