PHENOMENON! I witnessed one at the Disney World Marathon on Sunday 1/13/13. My husband and I ran the 20th Anniversary Celebration - our very first marathon was the inaugural one in 1994.
In 1994, 8200 runners participated in the marathon, 62% were men, 38% were women. Back then, you might have trained with a partner, as part of a club, or in a group, but on race morning, you crossed the start line on your own, and you ran YOUR race. The goal: to do the best your trained body could do, and cross the finish line to collect your medal. Yes, in the hours out on the course, you interacted with other runners, but the race was yours and yours alone.
This year, I witnessed an entirely different groove. An astonishing movement of support from women. 21,000 runners participated this year, and for the FIRST TIME IN HISTORY, the women out-numbered the men. Woohoo!!! 52% were women, 48% were men.
Women are nurturers, we support one another, and that too was evident in this race. I came upon 2 women, running side-by-side, encouraging each other as they went. Soon, groups of 3 or 5 or 7 came into view, slowing when one needed to catch her breath. If one needed to stretch, they all moved to the side, many times one massaging her friend's cramped calf, before the group resumed their pace. They were in this together, no one would get left behind. They would all make it to the finish line, they would all accomplish their goal, and they would all head home with their finishing medal.
Looking at the history of Boston, Chicago, and NY, illustrates how things have changed. Boston began in 1897 - and in 1967, the first woman, Katherine Switzer (registered as KV Switzer) ran the race. Officials tried to rip off her bib number and disqualify her, because women were NOT ALLOWED to run the Boston marathon. Katherine finished - as any strong-willed woman would have - and she went on to run 35 marathons, and to win the 1974 NY marathon.
Women were finally allowed to register for Boston in 1972! Today's average population is 20,000; 60% men/40% women.
Chicago began in 1905 with 15 runners, of which only 7 finished, all of them were men. Though Chicago never banded women, the ratio was always small. Today, the average participation = 35,000 runners; 57% men/43% women.
In endurance sports, men make up 63% of the field; women 37%. Over the years, the number of women participating in these sports - marathons, triathlons, and more - has steadily increased, but SIGNIFICANT CHANGE was realized this year. 116 years after the Boston marathon started!
Women are coming together, rallying to prove we are just as capable, mentally and physically, as men, and maybe, just maybe, we have more fun participating in these races because we do it together. We support, team up, encourage, and help push each other to finish. It's a sisterhood of sports, a bonding experience few men will ever have. It's EMPOWERING!!
I'll end with an example of sisterhood, two strangers sharing a common goal:
For me, this marathon was not about a personal record, it was a jump-start to racing again after taking two years off. I was not 100% trained and knew I would run/walk to comfortably finish, without injury, to collect my 20th anniversary Mickey Mouse medal. I had a good first half - the 13.1 miles clicked off nicely, then I started to slow, so I walked, then ran, then walked again. Just after the 14 mile mark, a younger woman asked if I'd mind if she walked with me? "Not at all," I replied, knowing with company, the next 12 miles would come and go more quickly.
As we walked, we talked, and I learned she trained to do the marathon with a friend, but that friend talked her into doing the Goofy Challenge - run the half-marathon on Saturday to collect a Donald Duck medal, then run the full marathon on Sunday to collect the Mickey medal - earning you a Goffy medal!
When she got to the half-way point, she felt bad that she held her friend back, so she told her to go, then she questioned whether she could finish or not. When I heard her doubt, I realized I didn't care how long it took us, but we were not going to quit. We walked/ran/walked, counting off the remaining miles and we FINISHED TOGETHER! I got my 20th anniversary Mickey medal and she went home with the three medals she so richly deserved after completing both races. (My 1st Disney medal and this year's 20th Ann. medal)
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