You are a contender in a marathon race when you accidentally trip the runner beside you. Do you stop to help him up?
Absolutely. I’d feel some guilt if my clumsiness got in the way of someone else finishing the race.
If someone tripped me, on the other hand, I’d gladly use it as an excuse to quit running. I don’t get the point of marathons, generally, but I’m not athletic nor competitive by nature.
There are those who run them on a mission to prove something, though, and that’s entirely different. I heartily approve of that.
I’ve been a fan of a podcast called The Dollop for a while now and one of their episodes a few years ago focused on the Boston Marathon and the women who first tried to run it.
In this New York Times article there’s a photo of Kathrine Switzer being harassed by race officials in the middle of her first attempt in 1967.
Kathrine Switzer’s marathon in 1967 became historic because she was the first woman to complete the all-male race as an official entrant — her registration as “K.V. Switzer” hid her gender. The race resonated far beyond a footnote in the record books when an official tried to force her from the course after a few miles.
“The marathon was a man’s race in those days; women were considered too fragile to run it,” she wrote in an essay for The New York Times 10 years ago. “But I had trained hard and was confident of my strength. Still, it took a body block from my boyfriend to knock the official off the course.” Switzer recovered to finish in 4 hours 20 minutes.
It took another five years before the rules changed to let women sign up as official participants.
(As an aside, the top woman in the 2017 marathon managed the course in 2:21:52 – Edna Kiplagat from Kenya.)
“In 1967, few would have believed that marathon running would someday attract millions of women, become a glamour event in the Olympics and on the streets of major cities, help transform views of women’s physical ability and help redefine their economic roles in traditional cultures,” Switzer wrote.
(Another aside, 1:28:17 was the wheelchair time for Manuela Schar, of Switzerland. The first wheelchair in the run happened in 1975 and these Boston Athletic Association prides itself on its inclusivity.)
How to end this… mind slightly changed on the importance of marathons, I guess I could say. Whether from an individual level or a cultural one, they can be a test of more than endurance and ability of a body; they can be a test of a society’s ability to change its mind as well.