The wind was taken out of my sails blogging when the bombings took place that day. I now return to the thoughts I then had and want to share what Kathrine Switzer shared with me last June. After I PRed the 10k, I had her sign my racing bib. “Be Fearless,” she said to me as she wrote it in black Sharpie and I assured her that I was.
At the time, I only half-heartedly believed I was fearless. I worry about a lot of things, incessantly, and I wonder if they actually become fears when I dwell on them too long. I worry about my family when I am not in contact with them. I worry about retirement and where we will live. I worry about my aches and pains and my heart issues. Are they fears? I hope not.
When I started running, I had concerns over health issues but I didn’t let them stop me from putting one foot in front of the other. I took time to have my heart murmur checked and my doc, also a runner, gave me the ok for running. I think about it sometimes when I can feel it acting up but I am not living in fear of it. It has taken me on a 4+ hour run and if I keep treating my body right it will be able to serve me well.
As a female runner there is always the concern of running alone at the remote outdoor track or on the road. I think it is one reason a lot of women take to the treadmill but I do not. I love running alone and don’t have the resources for a gym membership nor the space for a treadmill in my apartment. I ran 6 miles on a hotel treadmill once and didn’t feel any more safe in that facility than I do out on the road. It comes down to not being foolish and staying aware as I run.
Granted, there are always situations out of a woman’s control but I am choosing to run outside as wisely as I can. I do carry pepper spray occasionally for loose dogs. I am also a backer for a terrific sports watch, Bia Multi-Sport that will have a button that sends out an SOS alert and send your location to loved ones and emergency services at the press of a button. I haven’t made those choices because I am afraid; I am thoughtful and realistic about being a woman runner on my own.
When I first started racing, I was shy about my capabilities and chose races that were set up only for women. My first 8k and half marathon had the terrific spirit of many women coming together and doing their best. Some of them were no less competitive than men but the overall atmosphere was empowering. I wasn’t afraid of a mixed gender race but I was a bit shy. Choosing Wild Women’s 8k and Run Like a Diva Half Marathon allowed me to try on the race scene without feeling overwhelmed by the seriously sculpted men who can dominate the starting line. Even if I had a higher BMI, at least the sculpted women I had a more in common with. It felt like a tribe running together from where I started and finished each race.
As I built up my running base the first year, I think I did so with a little too much vigour and landed myself a heel spur along with plantar fasciitis. My anxiety increased as my ability to run without pain decreased. It was frustrating to have something that I loved to do snatched from me through my own stupidity in training. After the x-ray confirmed the heel spur, I knew it was going to be a long row to hoe getting back to where I wanted to be but I faced it with determination. I wasn’t afraid to put in the work because it meant so much to me to be able to push myself to accomplish distance running. I am very proud to have stuck with it and trained for my first full marathon.
I did have real moments of being overwhelmed by the training required for a full 26.2 miles. As many first timers, looking ahead at a marathon training schedule to see a 20 mile training run can be daunting. I had only ever run a very painful 15 miles as a maximum distance prior to training so to imagine running 20 was almost frightening. As veteran runners can tell you, you don’t tackle it all at once and the training leads to the longer distances gradually. I wasn’t foolish at how I approach such a huge undertaking. With the guidance of Angie Spencer of Marathon Training Academy I trained well and got myself to the starting line last September.
Toeing the line at the Wineglass Marathon didn’t allow room for fear. The forward momentum of all of my preparation and training bolstered any real doubts and, whether I finished the full distance or not, I knew I was prepared. It was only the unforseen that might derail my journey and success.
With the horrific bombings in Boston still fresh in my mind, I am saddened to think of those who had their journey (in life or the marathon) cut short that day. Those many dear people on Boylston Street to support and cheer were forever damaged or killed in the midst of joy on Patriots Day. Thousands of runners, who may have been trying for years to qualify for this race, were blast aside and denied the joy of the finish, the heartbreak of a finish line spoiled and a day of glory turned into tragedy.
Footage of the elite runners that morning had included running dignitaries standing in the background at different spots along the race course. Kathrine Switzer was among those on the photo bridge covering the race for television. That afternoon I wondered if she was ok and knew she was again facing a very frightening time at the Boston Marathon.
Staring down the fear of a physical attack by the race manager during the 1967 Boston Marathon allowed Kathrine to be the first woman to officially enter and complete race. Her bravery paved the way for women like Nina Kuscsik to be the first official woman to win Boston five years later and Jacqueline Dixon to win the 1972 Women’s mini. All three of these women paved the way for Title IX, the law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.
For all the women who have run before me, who have blazed the trail for women’s running, I thank you. If I too am fearless, I can hope it be to ease a better future for someone.