The marathon is a 26.2 mile running event. The race is named “marathon” because of the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. He ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “Νενικήκαμεν” (Nenikékamen, ‘We have won.’) before collapsing and dying.
A little over a hundred years ago, one of the items on many “bucket lists” would have been unachievable for a woman not because a woman can’t do it but because men thought women couldn’t do it. In 2009, I trained for 4 months and completed the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. Of course, I didn’t run it to be competitive. I ran it simply to see if I could do it. The next year, I completed the Kentucky Derby Marathon.
Is running/jogging/dragging yourself 26.2 miles a challenge? Definitely! But it’s amazing to me that women weren’t even allowed to try to run the marathon 100 years ago and weren’t really welcome (even though allowed to run) at races just 40 years ago. In the races I ran, it seemed that there were just as many women were running as there were men running.
In 1896, a Greek woman asked to participate in the marathon in the Olympics and was rejected. After repeated petitioning, women were allowed to participate in 5 field events in the 1928 Olympics. In 1960, the 800 meter run (the longest distance women were allowed to run at that time) for women was dropped from the Olympics because the women were exhausted after running the race. In the 1960s, women began running distance races as bandit runners (runners who aren’t officially registered). In 1966, Roberta Gibb hid behind a shrub at the start of the Boston Marathon, sneaking into the field and finishing the race in an unofficial time of 3:21:25.
In 1970, the first women’s marathon events are held. In 1971, the best marathon time for women is dropped 4 times from 2:55:22 to 2:49:40. In 1971, the Boston Marathon officially opened to women. Women were also allowed to run the New York City Marathon but the race was separate from the men’s race.Today, women are allowed to run pretty much any marathon race.
The marathon is competitve for many people but for many of us, it is/was just something we wanted to do to see if we could do it. Many people run just to finish. In 2005, the average marathon time in the U.S. was 4 hours 32 minutes 8 seconds for men, 5 hours 6 minutes 8 seconds for women.