Women In Marathon Running: Flanagan's historic run

Shalane Flanagan of the United States poses for pictures after crossing the finish line first in the women's division of the New York City Marathon in New York, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The New York City Marathon took place Sunday just days after a terrorist attack shocked the nation. With amped up security, the runners toed the line to begin the race. An American woman has not won the race since 1977, a fact American female runners are all too aware of.

Shalane Flanagan is a Boston native. Her goal throughout her career has been to win the Boston Marathon, generally considered the most elite course there is. Unlike other marathons in the country, Boston requires a qualification time to be met before a runner is eligible. The year after the Boston bombing, Flanagan vowed to win the race for the city she was born and raised in. She has tried every year, and every year she has come up just a little short.

It was a different story on Sunday, as Flanagan became the first woman to win New York City in 40 years. At 36, Flanagan is an expert in the field and has seen the Olympics in Beijing, London and Rio. She completed the 26.2 miles in 2 hours 26 minutes and 53 seconds, and the emotion was overwhelming.

Marathon running used to be a sport women never participated in. “Experts” in sports medicine claimed distance running was damaging to a woman’s health. They also claimed running long distance would cause a woman’s uterus to fall out. I’m not kidding. People really thought that.

So, women were barred from signing up. This all began to change thanks to Kathrine Switzer in 1967. Under the pseudonym K. V. Switzer, she ran the race despite women not being allowed to. There are famous pictures of the race organizer chasing her down and trying to rip her number bib off her shirt. Shortly after, Switzer’s boyfriend knocked the race organizer down and she was able to complete the race.

In 1972, the marathon governing body decided women would be allowed to participate. However, there was a catch. Women either had to start 10 minutes before or 10 minutes after the men ran, otherwise they would need to begin the race in a different area. Separate but equal.

That year at the New York City Marathon, six women signed up and were made to start 10 minutes before the men. As the gun went off, the women sat down. They remained sitting at the start line of the race, holding signs, for 10 minutes. Then the gun went off for the men and the women began the race.

The embarrassment for the American Athletic Union caused a reversal of the separate but equal rule. Women were officially allowed to compete in marathons with no prejudice. The 2016 New York City Marathon saw 21,464 women finish. Today, 44 percent of marathon runners are women.

Switzer won this marathon in 1974 and returned to race it again on Sunday at the age of 70. This race has become a milestone for women in distance running, and watching an American woman win it this year made for a very special day.


Rachel Schaefer is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.schaefer@uconn.edu.