Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Marathon Woman - Book Review/Rant

Since I thought the blog might be quiet while I was in Vegas, I wrote this review and decided to try the schedule feature on Blogger.  Fingers crossed!  Enjoy!

Recently, the most seriously awesome Christi (Pedestrian Runner), sent me a little surprise out of the blue (although I knew something was coming due to her asking me for my snail mail address).  Can I just say now that the demise of the postal service will take away one of the absolute best mechanisms for making my day?  I love getting mail - not junk mail, but stuff that is actually for me, to me and about me.  And a gift?  OMG!  That sends me just over the moon.  Many, many thanks Christi for making my day a few weeks ago.

Sorry...off track there a minute...Christi sent me a fabulous autobiography (since she must have noticed I really enjoy reading true stories about incredibly inspirational people) by Kathrine Switzer called "Marathon Woman".  While I expected this book to be all about how Kathrine registered for the Boston Marathon in 1967 as "K.V. Switzer" claiming she didn't know women weren't allowed, etc., that really was just the introduction to the story.  It really was an incredible story about following your life's passion and sacrificing some of your personal goals for the greater good. 

What struck me along the way was really how recent women's liberation in society crossed paths with the world of sports.  How incredible that in my (relatively short) lifetime there were still people convinced that our uterus would fall out if we ran long distances.  That race directors and sponsors couldn't imagine that women would event WANT to run these distances.  And worst of all, that sometimes it was our fellow women that resisted the change most of all.  To think that in the first 11 years of my life, women couldn't compete in an Olympic marathon race.  And to learn all about the fight/sacrifice that Kathrine and many of her friends and colleagues went through to change minds and attitudes and to accomplish these dreams - not for themselves - but for all the women coming behind them.

I could tie many of the stories into my own experiences in a male-dominated field.  I remember coming out of college (1995) and hearing older women engineers (some only 10-15 years my senior - so not "old") talk about how rough it was when they came out of school.  Vendors that wouldn't talk to them because they couldn't believe a woman would have any authority to make a purchasing decision or be a project manager at all.  Coworkers who thought sexual harrassment was perfectly fine.  Management that looked the other way over blatant discrimination.  I was young and naive and completely convinced that as the new millenium dawned, these were times of our past.  It wasn't until my own bumps with discrimination and the glass ceiling that I found that it all still exists - just much less blatantly.  Even with all the strides our bra-burning mothers made, there is still a long way to go and often, it is still women that are standing in the way as much as men.

To tie these ideas together, the book "Run Like a Girl" (reviewed previously) illustrated how girls/women can build their self-esteem and self-efficacy through sport.  Meanwhile, ongoing research indicates that the success of women seeking STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees is directly correlated to their self-efficacy (their belief that they CAN do it).  Do we see how important it is to teach our daughters that they can do whatever they set their minds to?  Maybe someday, women will comprise 50% of the engineering classes just like they do med school and law school.  But in recent years, there has actually been a slight decline in enrollment numbers (less than 18% of engineering students are women).

A bit on my soapbox here, but I think it is easy to look at how far we've come as women and forget that there is still a ways to go.  While I don't intend to burn any bras (they cost way too much and I'm way to practical for that), I do think there is value in reminding people that we aren't at the finish line of equality yet.  Thankfully, there is something about covering the miles swimming, biking and running that is a great equalizer. 

To pay this forward, I would like to send one of my "blog friends" this book to read and enjoy as well.  Tell me something about how getting involved in running and/or triathlon has "built you up" and made you believe that you could do whatever you put your mind to.


  1. So on board with this post! It really is amazing to me that we sometimes still have barriers to smash through. My biggest goal in raising my daughter is to ensure her self esteem is wrapped up in her brains, her braun, her wit--anything but her appearance.

    Running and triathlon gave me a sense of strong and a sense of confidence. I love what sports has done for me!

  2. I am so glad that you enjoyed this book. I, too, am in a male dominated field and it has been difficult. From the start I was subtly discriminated and it made it hard for me to believe in myself. I would like to say that I am beyond that now but I alas I am not. I don't really enjoy being a software engineer so I will try and get a new direction for my career. However, let me say that I will support other women in anyway I can. I think its imperative that we stick together and make strides in everything we do. So here's to


  3. Nice to read something you can relate to. Frankly, the women I see at the running and triathlon events are incredible athletes and I only wish I could perform as well as they do.

  4. I can totally relate - I'm one of those "older" woman engineers that paved the way. I graduated from college in 1985 and it was tough establishing myself. A lot of people used to think I was the secretary. After being in the profession now 25+ years, it is good to see many more women in the field and that they are now taken seriously.

    In the sports arena, I remember growing up in the 1970s and wanting to play Little League baseball with my brothers, but I couldn't - because I was a girl. I'm happy to see that little girls now have as many opportunities to play sports as the boys.