Women in Professional Long-Distance Running A look at Gender, Work, and family in the sport over-time

Only 50 years ago . . .
(TOP) Kathrine Switzer, 1967, she was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an official entrant. Officials tried to pull her from the course, and other racers harassed her the entire 26.2 miles but her boyfriend kept them from harming her or removing her from the race. (BOTTOM, LEFT) Bobbie Gibb after being the first woman to race the Boston Marathon one year earlier in 1966. She was denied entry but traveled to Boston to race without a bib number. (BOTTOM, RIGHT) Switzer and Gibb pictured together at a book signing in NYC, 2010.

Running as a Profession

The 1984 Olympic Preview that includes the women's first Olympic Marathon and the 3K before becoming the steeplechase in 2008.
The 2016 Olympic Preview that includes the women's 5K, 10K, Steeplechase, and Marathon.

Family as an Athlete

Media Portrayal of Female Athletes and Pregnancy

There has always been media buzz when it comes to pregnancy and women's athletes. Within the last week, Serena William's (LEFT) won the Australian Open 8 weeks pregnant. She has received both praise and criticism for this feat. (TOP, RIGHT) Goucher responds to her critics with a throwback picture to several years ago when she placed 5th at the Boston Marathon 6.5 months after giving birth to her new son. (BOTTOM, RIGHT) In 2014 Alysia Montana runs the U.S. track and field championships. Montana is a five-time national champion and ran 2:32 that day. In a post race interview she said:

This is my first pregnancy and I’ve had a lot of questions… about how to go about it, and my midwives and doctors were so encouraging that I was like ‘this is something you can do!’ They told me ‘you are a professional runner, your threshold and lactic levels are going to be different from anyone else’s,’ and that took away any fear of what the outside world might think about a woman running during her pregnancy, or exercise in general.

We see so many people in different avenues in their life start their family and it looks so different than it does for a professional athlete, especially a professional athlete woman. We’ve seen Bernard Lagat have two kids and we don’t see the other side of it. This is what it looks like to be a professional athlete as a woman and still continue on with your career.”

Modern trends in talking about athletes and parenthood

In looking at Runner's World Magazines from the last two years, I've found a really interesting modern trend:


Meanwhile, in articles about men in long distance running their is little mention of their position as "dad." In the May 2017 volume of Runners World, there is a feature done on local phenomenon and BYU graduate, Jared Ward.

(LEFT) "Math prof and marathoner" (RIGHT) "Family Man" followed by one sentence paragraph

The same thing happens with famous marathoner Galen Rupp in the 2016 September volume. A long article about his marathoning career with a small photo and brief caption of him holding his daughter and kissing his wife.

How training impacts fertility

For the Men:

Training more than 30 miles a week increases mens chance to father female offspring. The article also cites that running will maintain a good sperm count, but warns that marathoning or other sports that heat up testicles may not help with conceiving.

For the Ladies:

"There’s little research into how the running mileage of the mother might affect the gender of their children, but research does exist to suggest that, unlike male runners, some female runners are putting their ability to conceive at risk. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, as many as 44 per cent of athletic women experience changes in their menstrual cycle, or have seen their periods stop altogether (amenorrhoea) at some time."
I am thankful for courageous women like Bobbi Gibb for taking the first steps, Alysia Montana for breaking boundaries, and Kara Goucher for speaking out. It fills me with so much hope – not just as a runner, but as a woman!

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