Run Like a Girl

11.10.09: Why racing with women matters

sasha and daughter.jpg Splash News

I have never been a girl’s girl.

Sure, I gossip, like clothes, get facials and pedicures but I have never been good in a group of women. Maybe it is because I am too competitive or because every time I have worked with all women, I have hated the endless meetings to talk about “feelings” and the sense that we all must justify ourselves constantly. Working with men is all about the bottom line.

Of course these are gender stereotypes and for every woman that fits it, I have always been able to find the others who are on the fringe. The women who could appreciate getting messy and competition, the ones who seek out the bottom line and are not afraid of offending people or getting loud. These are the women with whom I have formed close bonds.

But I have always been just a little uncomfortable around other women. For whatever reason, my personality and my interests have always been more conducive to friendships with males. For a year after my daughter was born I belonged to a very upscale all-women’s gym where the locker room smelled of potpourri and the women politely maintained sign-up sheets for the equipment.

I hated it.

Give me dirty, smelly, loud men any day of the week. That is how I like to roll in the gym, thank you. I hate etiquette, rules and the notion that I might be too posh to sweat. Because I am not. I love running on the treadmill next to a guy whose speed is set to 6.5 and then pumping mine up to 7.5. Somehow beating a guy is so much more motivating for me.

For these same reasons, I have always been wary of all-women races. I ran one in Alaska in 2005 for breast cancer research. It was fun and festive. I appreciated the cause since my mother died of breast cancer. I was a little ooked by the yoga at the starting line and the absence of pushing and jockeying for position that permeates the starting line at every co-ed race I have ever run. Races are supposed to be brutal and ugly and sweaty, not pink and frilly.

So when I was shut out of the half marathon I planned to run Nov. 15, I was disappointed to find the only one left was an all women’s event. Luckily my desire to race won over my desire to run with men because yesterday’s race was phenomenal.

The weather was perfect—60 degrees and sunny on the sparkling Maine coast. I could tell this race was different almost immediately upon arriving when I raced with my preschooler towards a restroom for an urgent pee-pee matter and I was immediately pushed to the front of the line.

“We understand,” one woman said, smiling at me. Nothing that nice has ever happened to me in a co-ed race.

When we entered the expo, the sounds of children playing were everywhere. The kids got out of the jogger and people smiled at them instead of looking at us like we had spit chewed bubble gum at them. There were clowns and jugglers and the general sense that children were all part of the fun.

The “significant other” 5k started about 10 minutes before the half marathon and my husband ran it with out children in the jogger. I kissed them good bye and then listened to Kathrine Switzer (the first women to officially run the Boston Marathon) talk about how in 1967, it was still illegal for women to run these kinds of distances in official races, about how she was actually accosted and almost physically removed from the course during her groundbreaking run in Boston 40 years ago.

I looked around at the other women who had all just said goodbye to spouses and children and other family members who giving their time to support them, some of whom were running their first race, others who were training for ultra marathons, all of whom had been training for months for this moment.

I take it for granted that my daughter can run as fast as she wants. I take my own rights for granted, too. I was born long after my mother’s generation fought for those rights and it has always been a given for me that I could do or be anything I wanted.

Standing in this group of women, it occurred to me that all of us were amazing, from the woman who would win it (with 1:21) to me (who ran a 1:45) and the woman who would finish dead last (3:34).

While I ran, my children made signs supporting me. They made a healthy snack for me to have after the race and they made layered sand pendants for me to slip around my neck along with my finishing medal.

When I crossed the finish line my daughter ran towards me, screaming Mommy! Mommy! And even though I did not meet my 1:38 time goal (due to, among other factors, a live bug incident that resulted in puking for about a minute on the side of the road at Mile 10), I still felt pretty incredible.

Later, my daughter ran in her first race—a kid’s race held around the corner from the half. She loved “running like mommy,” a huge smile on her face, her cheeks flushed and chilly from charging into the wind, her father, brother and mommy on the sidelines, cheering her on.

It is thanks to women like Kathrine Switzer that she and I and we can do anything or be anything we want to be. For my daughter’s sake, I may try to shake some of my outdated stereotypes about women and show her just how important we women really can be to one another. Especially when she and I are the lucky ones with supportive, wonderful men who will always cheer for us, hold our snacks and sweaters and make us necklaces full of green, red and purple sand.

I guess it takes a massive group of women to remind me that my daughter and I should always feel like winners even when we don’t run the fastest or meet all of our goals. Just by being toeing the starting line, we are victorious.

Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.