Read an Excerpt
The Need for a Women's Running Book
THERE'S AN IMPORTANT STORY you should know about. It's the story of a million women finding their legs. Along the way, they found their voices, their hearts, and their dreams. This story can be yours, too. All of running's benefits are right here for you to grab.
Why a women's running book? Are women runners different from men? After all, we both put one foot in front of the other, again and again. We both revel as we become fit and strong. We both struggle with days of leaden legs; days of no time to think, much less run; days when a brilliant stroke of motivation means sliding off the couch to order a pizza. In these ways, women runners are no different from their male counterparts.
Listen to those millions of women runners. Listen to their quiet breaths as they talk in predawn pairs, before the rest of the family wakesthe lessons and questions they share to the rhythm of steady footsteps. "I never thought I could ..." "I feel so much stronger ..." "I'm ready to take on a new challenge ..." Women develop a special sorority on the roads. This bond is an understanding based on acceptance, an appreciation of how far they have come, a knowing wink that says how much is yet to be gained. And so they talk and share and growand run. Singly and in groups, swiftly and slowly, they run.
THE WOMEN'S RUNNING BOOM
Running has always had some women enthusiasts. But as millions of women have taken up the sport, they have redefined it even as ithas redefined them. At the onset of the first running boom, which started when Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the 1972 Olympic Marathon in Munich, female runners were a rarity. Strenuous sports activities were still considered unfeminine and even harmful for women, so most women stuck to traditional activities such as golf and tennis. It was an oddity to see a woman running down the street, and those who did were sometimes asked who was chasing them. The women's movement changed that, and by the 1980s it was no longer uncommon to see women jogging in city parks, on tracks, and on trails throughout the country.
Over the course of those years, running evolved from a fairly obscure activity of hard-core athletes to a fitness activity of the masses. Good for the heart and lungs, easy on the budget, and possessing virtually no learning curve, it grew in popularity as Americans recognized the value of regular exercise. During the 1990s, as fitness evolved from healthy pursuit to holistic lifestyle, the United States experienced a second running boom. Now more than ever, running fills the bill for people with all sorts of goals, providing a social circle, stress relief, personal growth, and more.
This time around, women have driven the resurgence and recharacterization of the sport into a quest for health and fitness. Why women? More people of both sexes have begun pursuing the physical and emotional benefits of fitness. However, time has become a commodity in seemingly ever-dwindling supply, and women have felt especially pressed as they balance career and family while attempting to maintain healthy lifestyles. For increasing numbers of women, running has been a saving grace. A workout for the whole body, running requires a minimum of time, instruction, equipment, and planning. Although many women have entered the sport for its physical benefits, its surprising bonuses are what spur their enthusiasm. Running is conducive to both socializing and time alone, to relieving stress and solving problems, to relaxing and venting. Running has become a simple route to fitness that fits the complicated life of today's woman.
Now, women's enthusiasm for running has carried over into organized events, accelerating the sport's second boom. More and more races, fun runs, and walk/run events cater to women. Women-only events and charity fund-raisers regularly draw tens of thousands of women. It's not unusual for women to make up half the field of a marathon or a 10-K race, once vastly male in numbers. "Back-of-the-packers" are recognized with special awards, as are finishers in their golden years. The cumulative result is a sport that celebrates everyone who participates, not just those who are fleet of foot.
Women have been able to have such an impact in part because of running's egalitarian nature. Join a running club for a Sunday outing, and all are equals: young and old, wealthy and poor, all races, colors, and creeds. And yes, male and female. Friendships that might seem odd in another context are struck up when two strides fall into sync somewhere out on an otherwise lonely road. Even the speedy and the slow traditionally meet at the end, sharing their tales over bagels and coffee. And on race day, the tortoise shares the starting line with the hare, and the jogger can literally follow in the footsteps of her professional heroes. It's within the context of such an open social fabric that women have made their mark on all levels of the sport.
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME
As more women have become runners, the body of research documenting the sport's effect on women's bodies has grown. Now it seems that for every similarity between men and women runners there is a significant difference. For example, although the training principles of gaining speed and fitness remain the same for men and women, fluctuations in women's hormone levels can mean that it's more complicated for them to peak for an event.
On the other handpossibly thanks to their hormoneswomen seem better cut out for endurance than men are, because their pain thresholds are generally higher. And though the principles of biomechanics are the same for both sexes, some women are more prone to knee and foot problems than men, because they have wider hips. The female metabolism even seems to react differently to exercise, resulting in different nutritional needs. The list goes on.
In addition to such biological nuts and bolts, many women find that their questions and concerns about running veer in different directions than men's. Yes, the story of women's running is a story of how to become fit, and, should you desire it, even how to get fast. But it is also a story of how to set and reach goals, make time for yourself, make peace with yourself, and more. It is a story of relishing the moment and working toward the future, of appreciating the little things in life and never losing sight of the larger picture. These are the benefits women find today when they become runnersbenefits every bit as noticeable as trimmer thighs and faster times.
Excerpted from RUNNER'S WORLD COMPLETE BOOK OF WOMEN'S RUNNING by Dagny Scott. Copyright © 2000 by Dagny Scott. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.