My town had its first half marathon yesterday and I was thrilled to participate. It felt like, in our own small way, we were making history. A handful of women from my team placed very well in their age groups, and two of us finished in the top ten, winning cash prizes.
It was a tough race for me. After my enchanted summer in the Rocky Mountains I was used to long, slow mountain runs and cool temperatures. Sunday was unusually hot and humid and I wanted to place well, which meant pushing myself harder than I had since my last short road race in June. I had just about nothing left at the end and my pace was slowing noticeably with only about 500 meters left to go.
One of the guys from my team was running next to me and shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? NOOOOOO! WE ARE ALMOST THERE!!!”
I think I might have moaned a little in response.
He started shouting “Go Go GO!” not unlike the Japanese coach my brother and I witnessed shouting at his ward during the SF marathon in July. “GO! GO! GO!”
I was so mortified by the shouting that I couldn’t help but muster the strength for a strong finish – I just wanted him to stop. It was, actually, exactly what I needed. Just when I thought I had absolutely nothing left, we had fifteen, maybe twenty more strides to go, the finish was before us, and then he reached back, grabbed my hand, and yanked me across the line. Then I got a very sweaty hug.
I didn’t break my personal record, and I hope I never see the photos of my finish, but it was kind of awesome to be running in my town – we went down my street and past my building! – with so many runners I know and so many friends and acquaintances cheering us on, and especially to finish with so much help and support from a teammate, a male teammate especially.
There is an Olympian runner from my town, the face of my town’s largest and most historic running club and of course he ran the race and was invited to speak and give out the prizes. I’ve never met him and have only read a couple of interviews he has given in the local press. He began the women’s awards ceremony by remarking that many of the women had probably left already, as they’d have to get home right after the race to prepare an Italian family’s traditional Sunday lunch. I looked around to see if that was true, but half of the crowd, if not the majority, were women, some of whom were exchanging knowing glances and rolls of the eyes. In addition to the runners, I noticed the pretty young women milling around in short shorts not meant for running, bright yellow patent leather 4-inch heels and tight yellow T-shirts bearing the logo of another local running club with “[Club Name] Girls” emblazoned across the boobs.
I wasn’t going to let one comment like that deflate my happiness and satisfaction, but it does kind of give you a sinking feeling after running your hardest in a race alongside men and women alike and mistakenly thinking that we’re past judging a woman on her Sunday roast and what she looks like in crippling, back-breaking shoes.
One of the women from my club whom I very much admire, a respected doctor and researcher, marathon and ultra-marathoner, a smart, funny, energetic woman who had run with her husband and grown-up daughter and was at the awards ceremony not because she had placed but to support the other women on our team, said loud enough to be heard, “That’s disgusting! That is a terrible thing to say!” and only then did the other women in the crowd nod in agreement and mutter, step in a little closer to each other, and begin talking amongst themselves a little more loudly, without even the pretense of giving a damn at all about what the Olympian, two decades past his prime, was saying.
Well, I thought, at least we are past all that. It’s just a few others who haven’t quite caught up with us yet.