Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why I run

When I cross the starting line on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City on November 1, 2009, I will do something unheard of at the time of my birth - run a marathon.

In 1959, women did not run marathons, at least not officially. The farthest race sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee for women was only 200 meters, about twice the length of a football field. Women were not thought to be strong enough to run any further. Men, however, were able to run distances up to and including the 26.2 mile marathon in Olympic competition. By 1960, women were allowed to run the longer distance of 800 meters. 1972 brought the addition of the 1,500 meter race, and in 1983, the 5,000 (5K or 3.1 mile) and 10,000 meter (10K or 6.2 mile) events were added. And it wasn't until 1984 that the women's marathon was finally added to the Olympics. That year Joan Benoit won the first gold medal in the women's marathon. If you told me in 1984 that 23 years laterI would meet Joan Benoit Samuelson and get my picture taken with her at my local running store and then actually run a half marathon with her the next morning, I would have thought you were crazy.

Me with the first woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic Marathon - Joan Benoit Samuelson,
the day before my first long distance race - Space Coast Half Marathon 2007

But life is crazy and has its own twists and turns. When I was growing up, sports were not encouraged for girls. Gym classes were filled with calisthenics and team sports that no one liked or played well. The light blue polyester one piece gym suits with the elastic waists did not add to the allure of physical activity, especially since the boys, taking their gym in a separate class, were allowed to wear their own T shirts and gym shorts. The passage of Title IX, forcing equal spending for boys and girls in school athletics, began a revolution in girls' sports, but by the time the money began trickling down to girls like me, I was already happily ensconced in the world of books, band, student council, drama, and the school newspaper and had no time or interest in sports.

It wasn't until I had kids of my own that I noticed the 180 degree change that had taken place in our country. Girls played sports and played them well. While I sat on the sidelines at my son Daniel's soccer and baseball games, I noticed the girls on the field. Ponytails flying behind them, these Title IX recipients ran and threw or kicked balls as well as the boys, and smiled and laughed while they did so. I looked at my younger daughter Liana, watching with me on the lawn chairs with the other moms and younger siblings, and thought things would be different for her and her friends.

I don't know if my Liana and the girls of her generation take for granted the options they have in sports, but I do know that they now enjoy sports from the preschool level up through equal opportunities in a myriad of sports in college. Health and fitness are givens in their world. I envied them until the one day I decided to join them...

When the kids were finally old enough to be left in the house alone for a while without the fear that they would kill themselves or burn the house down, I came up with the idea of an evening walk with my husband Larry. We started walking that evening, and after a few steps I realized I had to jog a bit to keep up with Larry who was a foot taller than me and a fast walker. As I began to jog, he began to run. I had no choice but to run to try to keep up with him. And so began my introduction to the world of running - for me.

I joined a gym so I could become a stronger runner for my runs with Larry. I ran two miles at the gym the next day and thought I would pass out at the end. My legs hurt for days. But I felt a freedom and a sense of accomplishment in running that I never felt in those junior high and high school gym classes. I kept running.

I found out there were local 5K races, and began entering those races. A whole new world opened up to me. Adults of all ages competed for fun and exercise almost every weekend in races throughout Brevard County, Florida. At these races I made new friends and met really interesting people of all ages who ran for the sheer joy of the sport. The more races I ran, the faster I got. I watched Larry accept awards for placing (1st, 2nd, or 3rd place) in his age group in these races and soon it was also me receiving these awards. Larry and I got our kids to run with us in Clearwater, Florida's Turkey Trot, a race on Thanksgiving morning with 15,000 of our closest friends. This 5K race is now an annual eagerly anticipated tradition for our family.

I ran a 5K race in Titusville, Florida in 2008 with my 20 year old son and my Aunt Mary and Uncle Sandy, who are both in their 80's. It was a blast running with them and hearing Aunt Mary and Uncle Sandy regale us with their race stories over the years. Like me, my aunt and uncle began running in their 40's for fitness, then enjoyed it so much they never stopped. They started running 5K races, then 10ks, then the half marathon, and then many marathons. Always up for a fun family tradition, I decided to try the marathon length race myself.

Doug B., a local running coaching legend for high school athletes, has a marathon training camp for adults in the fall. I knew nothing about training for a marathon, and Doug was the expert, so I just turned my running over to this running camp and did every workout that Doug designed for me. I ran the Space Coast Half Marathon for marathon practice in November 2008 in 2 hours, and saw my time drop by 9 minutes from where it had been at the 2007 Space Coast Half Marathon, before I began training with Doug. On the day of my first marathon, the Disney World Marathon on January 11, 2009, I followed every step Doug had outlined for me and finished those 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 31 minutes, just one minute off my projected time.

Running is now a huge part of my life. I am grumpy if I don't run every day. Vacations are happy times when Larry and I run together, whether it is by the Coliseum in Rome, under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or through Larry's parents' neighborhood in Westerville, Ohio. I now love to shop in the Running Zone as much as I do in bookstores. Of course, exercise is so much more appealing wearing the latest sleek black spandex running outfit than a light blue polyester elastic waist one piece gym suit...

I will be running the New York City Marathon on November 1, 2009 with Fred's Team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital to raise money for pediatric cancer research. Check out my website at:


  1. I had no idea that it was so recently that women we finally allowed to participate in long distance races!
    That's really cool that you met the first Olympic gold medalist! I would think that the experience would serve as a source of inspiration for you to always strive to do your best.

  2. Thanks, Amanda! I love the people I meet through running and the places I get to go!