A Very Short History Of Getting Chicked In Tallahassee
I hung out at the two mile mark at the Women’s Distance Festival yesterday. Actually, I was doing traffic control and blocking traffic at some “Nene” somewhere out there in Indianhead Acres, but more importantly, I was cheering on the ladies. I said “cheering”, not “leering”, thank you. There is something special about that race, I like to see the women running unimpeded by men. It gives me a good feeling, kind of like Christmas come early.
I am sure that it has to do with the fact that when I started running back in the day, there simply were no women runners to be seen. Not even women’s events in track and field. Running cross country was not very popular back in New Jersey circa 1964 -1967, we spent a lot of time dodging beer bottles and Chevy Super Sports on Passaic Avenue back then, and I cannot even imagine the response that a female runner would have brought. Probably a riot.
But when I matriculated to Boston University in 1967, that changed in a hurry. Road running in New England was hard core, women included. In 1966 Roberta Gibb surreptitiously shattered age old folk lore and “old wives tales” by running in and completing the Boston Marathon, but under the assumed name of “R. Gibb.” If you read her reports about the race, to this day Gibb speaks well of all the men who supported her efforts out there on the marathon course that day.
Then, in 1967, Katherine Switzer took the lead and became the first female to actually sign up as such for the Boston Marathon. The race director and head of the BAA (Boston Athletic Association), whom I met many times, was Jock Semple, a stumpy, bald, tough Irishman who had not one liberated bone in his body. When the race started in Hopkinton, Semple took notice of Miss Switzer and tried to tear off her official race number. Switzer, no fool, was running the marathon with her boyfriend, who also happened to specialize during the “off season,” in putting the shot. Hit with a cross body block, Semple was sent sprawling for his efforts, the photos of Semple getting clocked were widely distributed, and the rest of women’s marathoning is history, as they say (you can actually see several photos of Semple getting knocked down at http://www.katherineswitzer.com/boston.html). Check out the great sweats we wore back then. We’ve all come a long way, baby.
Kathy Switzer went on to run over 30 marathons and to champion women’s running for many years, even being a major promoter for the Avon International Running Circuit through her work with Avon Products Inc., which was instrumental in lobbying for the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984. Now, because of what it was, that marathon was simply the most exciting race I have ever witnessed, and it was won by an American, Joan Samuelson (Benoit)at the Los Angeles Olympics that year. Greta Waitz (Norway) second, Rosa Mota (Portugal) third. An even better story because “Joanie” had to undergo knee surgery just 17 days before the U.S. Olympic marathon qualifier earlier that year, and then worked out furiously on an exercise bike to try to stay in shape for the race, because she couldn’t run for some time after the surgery. So, women’s running history in the USA was nearly not made in Los Angeles in the hot summer of 1984. But it was.
Nevertheless, there is your American distance running pedigree ladies, and it is a fine one indeed, directly from Robbie Gibb to Kathy Switzer to Joan Samuelson Benoit. And if Joan Benoit, who even qualified for and ran in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials earlier this year at age 50 (!), is not to women’s distance running in this country as Frank Shorter was to the distance running boom, then I’ll eat my SportHills.
Personally, I ran for a long time in Tallahassee without ever knowing any female distance runners. Laura Ledbetter was the first of any note that I recall here in town. Laura was tall, slim, very graceful and quite shy. She chicked me once at the 30K held at St. Marks long ago, like 1982 or 1983. Hell, I ran 1:57 and I could hardly see her she was so far ahead of me. I swore that it would never happen again.
Then Mary Ann Crawford moved here. Mary Ann was the first woman I ever ran long miles with. She asked no quarter, she gave none either. She was a tiny thing with the heart of a lioness. Some of the regular guys couldn’t run with her though, she ran like it meant something to her, from the very first step to the very last. And I really liked that about her. Plus, Mary Ann cursed like a drunken sailor on shore leave. But the best part about running with Mary Ann was that after about 15 miles, her stomach predictably would act up and she would begin to fart like a champion. She didn’t care to hide the fact or act “lady-like” about it, and this seemed to bother some of the guys. That was hypocritical in my view, when you run with guys, if one passes gas, they all laugh uproariously. So, it was one small fart for a lady, several big farts for all woman-kind, to paraphrase. I somehow found it liberating as long as I stayed at least one step ahead of her.
The truth was that some of the guys didn’t like getting chicked by Mary Ann, plain and simple. And she chicked a lot of guys here at a lot of races. In general, we were devastated when Mary Ann moved away.
I then ran for years here, never getting chicked. Until Darien Andreu showed up. Then I started to get chicked quite regularly by her. At first it was difficult to accept, but with a small attitude adjustment, running behind Darien wasn’t that bad at all. I mean I could stay fairly close in a 5K or 10K, but you had to fight for position behind her. Kind of like a road running roller derby. She had lots of well meaning male fans. The reality was that Darien was a talented runner and she was fast. I last saw her at a 5K in Jacksonville in 2004, and at age 44 she was still running around 18:50, humble and gracious as always, and still a beautiful woman. Darien Andreu is a class act. What is so bad about getting chicked anyhow?
Since that time I have gotten totally comfortable with getting chicked. Heck, before I moved to Asheville in 2001, for a few years I ran a day or two every week with Sarah Docter-Williams. Correction…I tried to run with Sarah. A word of caution here guys. Sarah was a world champion short track speed skater and she messed around for a while with cross country while attending the University of Wisconsin. I think maybe she made All American or some such thing, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. There is no denying her great running genes and she is tougher than a minute steak. Just about every guy in town gets chicked by Sarah and if evolution is for real, you can start to get ready to be chicked by her two daughters if they stay interested in running, too. You can watch Sarah regularly chick a couple of really good male runners every Tuesday morning at the interval sessions at Maclay.
So, back to yesterday’s Women’s Distance Festival. Ladies, you all ran tough and you looked great doing it, too. When you lace them up, try to remember that each of you comes from a great distance running heritage in this country and that you are following in the footsteps of some wonderful female runners who preceded you here in Tallahassee. You add to that heritage every day. So wear it proudly, you deserve it. Then pass it along to those younger up and comers too. Remember, to make a difference, you also have to continue to earn it every day.