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Mary Burns PrineHistory of one racing woman, racing women and women having fun running:

I began racing in 1972, when our school started a track team. Track was not considered "ladylike", and I guess most of us were looked on with a bit of curiosity. Our uniforms were the softball uniforms, complete with those heavy stiff shorts, and heavy tops. I wore the Adidas Country, which was green and about the best shoe on the market. I did have some spikes as well, which I was very proud of. My mother was dismayed that I was running, and was sure that I was doing it only to worry her.

It was in the fall, the beginning of my junior year in high school, that I fell in love with running. It was a Saturday. I don't know if I was told to do this, or just decided that I would, but I laced on my shoes, put on a nice warm sweatshirt and went out for a run. I ran all the way to the old St. Joseph's Academy and back. I don't remember how long it was, maybe 6 miles? Anyway, I was freed that day. I remember the feeling of the cool crisp air, the sharp smell of the leaves, the sound of my breathing as I strode along. I don't remember fatigue, pain or boredom. It was because of that day that I became a marathon runner.

I did not know at that time that women were not allowed to run marathons. I did know about marathons. Drake Marathon was run in Des Moines every April. I remember watching them struggle past the mall one Saturday, and thinking, now that would be something to do. I didn't notice any women, but maybe there were some, I don't know. This was around 1973 or so.

My first marathon was in 1976. I ran it in cutoff shorts and a shirt that said "Eat ..it Woody." Woody was the infamous Woody Hayes, coach of Ohio State University Football team. We were going to play them in football soon. Since he was known for his temper, we were sure he would like our shirts. I wonder if he saw my rookie performance at the Covered Bridge Marathon in Winterset, Iowa in October of 1976? I won the race. OK, I was the only woman. I ran it in 3:13, which isn't that bad. I couldn't find the finish line at the end, and had to keep asking spectators where to go. There is this picture of me looking pretty tired, my hands up, asking where to go. Definately, the dead mind syndrome of 26 miles. I kept thinking, when I get done, I can lay down. I am glad I did not know then about the extreme pain after finishing a marathon, and that there is no relief to the pain. Laying down, standing, sitting, it is all pain. Still, this qualified me for the Boston Marathon, which I would run the following April.

Although women had run marathons before, it was the infamous Jock Semple of the Boston Marathon who put us on the map. And specifically, it was Roberta Gibb, another woman who didn't think it was such a big deal to run this distance. The year was 1966. She hid in the bushes until the start of the race, then ran the race. After finishing in 3:12, the race denied her that she had run the race, only that she had run on the same course. The next year, Katherine Switzer registered as K Switzer and got a number. At the start, she had her hair up in a hat and a big sweatshirt on. When the gun went off, she took off the sweatshirt and hat and started to run. Well, Jock Semple went after her, yelling at her to stop in the name of the sanctity of the Boston Marathon, grabbing at her so he could rip off her number. Today, the lawyers would have a field day. But it was 1967, and things were different then. Her boyfriend served as her own personal body guard, as well as several men running around her, and she was allowed to finish the race. So she was the first official finisher, with a number and everything. We should give some credit to Sara Mae Berman, who did the same thing, but without a number, so wasn't even official. And to be honest, although they list both women as running the marathon at those times, they are not considered official according to the B.A.A. rules. The first official women's winner was Nina Kuscsik in 1972. When I ran Boston in 1977, I was unaware that it was only the 5th year that women were officially able to run it. Irene Stuber, author of women's biographies, has an excellent biography on the history of women running.

It was not until 1984 that women were allowed to run a marathon in the Olympics. This was a very exciting time for women runners. Like many other runners, I attempted to qualify for the Olympic trials. With a PR of 2:57 set several years earlier, I trained like a maniac, putting in well over 120 miles a week (of course, this was the norm at this time anyway). I succeeded, qualifying in for the trials with 3 seconds to spare.

In his book, Olympic Marathon: A Centennial History of the Games Most Storied Race, author Charlie Lovette discusses the history of the women's marathon race. You can read an this chapter on Marathon Guide.

Why is it that women were not allowed to run further than a mile or so in competition? According to Joan Benoit Samuelson, winner of the 1984 Women's Olympic Marathon, "...it was felt that if a woman ran more than a mile, she would do herself bodily harm and would not be able to have children."

Well, as Joan, Barb, Heather, Mary, Cindi, Marina, Carol, Alison, and countless others will attest, running does not deny you the pleasure of motherhood, or of sexuality. In fact, most of these women will say that running allows you to be the parent you should, and the partner you want to be by empowering you and setting you free. It is what keeps us alive. Thank goodness for the pioneers. Their inspiration reached us all and released us. If you have things to add, and I'm sure you do, send me your submissions, or respond in the message board. I'm sure we all have something to add on this subject!