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Gender Race
Kathrine Switzer, 1967

There’s been quite a bit of drama over the last two weeks as registration for the 116th annual Boston Marathon opened and closed.  I’m registered, accepted, and guaranteed entry.  Since my time comes from last year’s Boston Marathon, and it was over ten minutes faster than my division’s qualifying time I earned my spot fair and square.  Or so you would think.  I was amused at first at the speculation that the buff male athletes were being squeezed out by all those women that had easier qualifying times.  And as the rancor continued, I was angry.  I thought about Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the all-male Boston Marathon with an official entry number (she registered under her initials) and was almost run off the course by organizers as they tried to rip off her number.  That was 1967, and I was seven years old and making my own waves in the neighborhood empty lot as the boys attempted to ban the girls from playing pick-up baseball. 

I’m not really athletic by nature, but I am competitive; especially when someone tells me that I can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to do something.  My performance comes from a sense of righteousness, a sense that I deserve to excel on my own terms, and the belief that exceeding performance levels in a peer group is just as impressive as exceeding them in a field unseeded.  Let me give you an example:  Would you be awed that a 30 year-old trained runner beat a 10 year-old novice runner?  Probably not. You expect there to be differences in performance based on developmental differences, age difference, and experience.  Universally, most people agree that enhancing hormone levels or “doping” is unfair in professional sports, but when it comes to amateur competition, there are those who believe men and women should compete for the same spots regardless of body chemistry, anatomy and performance differences (i.e. center of gravity).  That’s like saying you’ve come a long way, baby, but now we are sending you back to the starting line.  Rather than whining at the number of women taking up spaces, those anxious men should be scanning their own division to figure out how they can become competitive within their own peer group.

Here is what I know.  Last year, when I ran the Boston Marathon, I ran in the peer group with gold medal Olympian Joan Benoit Samuelson.  She placed first and I place 195th out of division of 854 female finishers between the ages of 50-54.  That put me in the top 23% of my division.  Does that mean I’m simply taking up valuable space?  There were over twice as many males in that same age division that crossed the finish line.  And if I was a man I still finished faster than over one-third of the runners in the male 50-54 division.  I finished faster than 50% of the women regardless of age and overall (men and women combined) I finished in the top two-thirds of the field.  I’m not statistics driven, in fact this is the first glimpse into my performance since last April.  When I’m running, I’m purely focused at making it to the finish line.  I’m a fan of one simple goal, one single vision.  Now that the Boston Athletic Association has announced the 2012 qualified field, it comes with a simple message for those that weren’t accepted.  Want to blame someone for taking your spot?  Look at the male/female in your age group with a qualifying time of one minute and fourteen seconds faster than you. 

Congratulations to the BAA for recognizing excellence in peer group and for not pitting young against old, male against female.  It’s comforting to know that history does not have to repeat itself and Kathrine Switzer’s aspiration to run her own race is alive and well for the 116th Boston Marathon.