My mother ran her first 5k at the age of 65. She suffers from bad feet and a sore knee from a surgery 10 years ago. Nevertheless, when I suggested that we start an annual tradition of racing together on Mother’s Day, she was game. This year, our third year running, we had to delay the tradition for logistical reasons. *
Instead, on actual Mother’s Day weekend, I ran in my mom’s honor at the Inaugural Women’s Right to Run in Seneca Falls, NY.
Quick history lesson: historic female giants like Jane Hunt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Ann M’Clintock organized the first Convention on Women’s Rights in 1848 in Seneca Falls, which as a result basically became the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement.
And against this historical backdrop, not to mention the recent path-breaking success of Senator Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential election, the race’s theme couldn’t be more appropriate.
More than 1,000 runners participated in the Inaugural Women’s Right to Run hosted on May 7th, 2016 organized by sponsor Generations Bank, with about half participating in the 5k, and the other half in the 19k race. (Get it? 19th Amendment of the US Constitution = the amendment that gave women the right to vote.)
Heather May, age 46, from Geneva, NY, was the first female to finish the 19K with a chip time of 1:21:31.0, a stunning 6:55 minute/mile pace. Catherine Porter, age 17, from Seneca Falls was the first female to finish the 5K with a chip time of 21:25, also a 6:55 min/mile pace. Just goes to show you – love of running knows no age.
After my run, I had the honor of interviewing Kathrine Switzer, the national spokesperson for the Women’s Right to Run, and also the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry in 1967.
(I carried small index cards and a pencil in my exercise belt so that I could jot down interview notes post-race. These answers reflect the highlights of what Ms. Switzer said that I managed to interpret from my scribbles later on. To view the interview in full, please watch this video.)
The first question I asked her, “You started training for your first Boston Marathon on the campus of Syracuse University when you were in college. What are some other favored places to run when in Syracuse, NY?” (Biased question from author – Syracuse is where I live.) She responded, “Christian Brother’s Academy (CBA) or Green Lakes State Park.”
Favorite places to run in New Zealand? (Ms. Switzer splits her residency between there and in New Paltz, NY). New Zealand it is an environmental paradise, with trails everywhere. It’s worth the expense to visit. She believes trail running has saved her legs as opposed to limiting her running on street roads.
Do you have any tips to prevent blisters from forming? Kathrine said, “Wear ultra-thin, non-cotton socks and get regular pedicures to prevent calluses!”
One fun anecdote from Ms. Switzer’s website describes how she put lipstick on before running the Boston Marathon. Later, she created the Avon International Running Circuit for the cosmetics giant. So, I asked her, “Do you still wear lipstick when running?” She responded, “Yes – even alone in the woods!”
What’s your running mantra? What or who inspires you to go the distance? When self-doubt starts to creep in, or the running becomes particularly tough, she tells herself that she has no right to feel sorry for herself. Life throws us curve balls everyday. We have to honor everyday. She tells herself, be fearless, but also, honor this gift to run.
Any thoughts on the upcoming election? She’s not going to tell you who to vote for, but she says, you must vote. Many people in Seneca Falls laid down their lives to give women the right to vote. She believes the Women’s Right to Run reflects our parallel achievement of winning as females. She looks forward to empowering women to run and vote through her organization 261 Fearless, Inc.
I also spoke with Rosy Spraker, who traveled from Virginia to show solidarity with her mentor and hero Ms. Switzer. Rosy met Ms. Switzer at the Expo for her first Boston Marathon in 2007. She has dedicated herself to the goal of running the Boston Marathon 25 times in a row in order to be eligible for membership in the Quarter Century Club (QCC).
When I met Rosy at the race, she was in crutches. She explained that at this year’s Boston Marathon, her tenth in a row, she fractured a bone in her foot after becoming tangled with another runner within the first two miles of the course.
But that didn’t stop her from finishing. Remembering Ms. Switzer’s story of how she remained undeterred in her running even after the male Race Director aggressively jostled her and attempted to rip her bib off to stop her from completing the Boston Marathon, Rosy knew that quitting was simply not an option. She didn’t want to jeopardize meeting her goal of becoming a QCC member.
Rosy and Ms. Switzer have made a long-term personal commitment to running. They also use running as a vehicle to empower and unite women through their work with the global non-profit called the 261 Fearless, Inc., founded by Kathrine Switzer. For those of you looking for a supportive community made of passionate and fearless runners, I highly recommend you consider joining the organization.
Several 261 Fearless Ambassadors ran the Women’s Right to Run, and its Race Director, Katie MacIntyre, is also a 261 Fearless Ambassador (who, by the way, was instrumental at helping to coordinate my interview with Ms. Switzer and I’m so appreciative of the opportunity). They will accept an additional 261 Fearless Ambassadors in the late Fall of 2016. To ensure you learn when the application process opens back up, you can join the 261 Fearless Newsletter.
And for those of you interested in participating in the Women’s Right to Run next year, Generations Bank has just announced that the race will take place in Seneca Falls on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Kathrine Switzer has signed on to return as national spokesperson. This also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Boston Marathon.
*This year, my mom and I ran the Stow Conservation Trust’s 18th Annual Run for the Woods on May 15th–and my mom won 3rd place in her age group!!