Perseverance: American Women and the Marathon

In the concrete jungle, seconds matter.

After running through five boroughs alongside more than 50,000 runners with an estimated 2 million fans watching the race unfold along the course with heighten security, on Sunday, November 5th it took 61 seconds of speed to change 40 years of history.

Shalane Flanagan, made history as she won the 2017 NYC Marathon women’s division.

It’s been decades since an American woman crossed the finish line first. An American woman had not won the New York City Marathon since 1977. This is a big deal, and let me show you why.

1961: Women are barred from road races, as experts claim it was damaging to women’s health and femininity.

1967: Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon under the name K.V. Switzer and was dragged off the course (image below).

1972: Title IX is enacted into law. The education amendment prohibits federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students or employees based on sex. This same year, the Amateur Athletic Union, the governing body for United States marathons; decided to allow women to take part in road running. However, women were supposed to start 10 minutes before the men. Nina Kuscsik, became the first woman to officially win the Boston Marathon.

1974: Kathrine Switzer won the New York City Marathon.

1976-77: Japanese-American Miki Gorman won her second consecutive NYC Marathon.

1980: 10% of marathon runners in the U.S. are women.

2016: 57% of marathon runners in the U.S. are women, according the Running USA.

Before Flanagan’s 2017 race there were decades of women fighting for the chance to race. They had to overcome unsubstantiated medical claims, bias, and a slew of other obstacles to pursue their passion to not only run, but compete.

Flanagan’s personal story of perseverance began in 2004 when she turned professional. She worked hard for over a decade to reach her greatest goal; to win a major international race.

Specifically for this NYC race, she made her NYC Marathon debut in 2010; making the best finish by American woman in 20 years. However, she finished in second place; 20 seconds behind the 2010 winner. Flanagan didn’t compete in the NYC marathon again until this year, and at mile 23 she broke ahead and crossed the finish line first, 61 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor. “I’ve visualized that finish line, you don’t know how many times,” said Flanagan.

The 36 year old is extraordinarily competitive, as a two-time NCAA National Champion, she holds various records for indoor races and took the silver medal in the 10,000 meter race at the 2008 Olympics; and now the 2017 winner of the NYC Marathon.

If Shalane’s journey has inspired you, keep an eye out for her this April as she will be competing to win the Boston Marathon. The last time this race was won by an American woman, Lisa Larsen Weidebach, was in 1985.

About Kelly Becker

Becker lives at the crossroads of sports and innovation. She has collaborated with entrepreneurs who have appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank and on Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Recently, she earned the Sports and Fitness Industry Future Leader award. Kelly is an NCAA National Champion field hockey player and is a passionate advocate for women in sport.

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