Hello and welcome to Marathon Monday here in Boston. This year is historically important, in light of the horrific bombings that characterized last year’s race. Locally, and we are sure internationally, the media has been highlighting the influx of Patriotism, unity and community spirit that evolved from the 2013 tragedy. While some may say (and many have) that all the hype is a bit over-the-top, we think silverlinings can never be overpromoted.
Aside from the incredibly positive energy running through the course this year, the Boston Marathon actually plays a significant role in Suffragette Kitty.
The Boston Marathon has been run on the third Monday in April since 1897. In that time, it has set many historical milestones, among them, allowing women to run in 1972. Imagine how boring an all-male race was.
One of the most significant women to run and win three consecutive Boston Marathons is Uta Pippig, a native of the former East Germany and now a Concordian like me. Uta placed first for the women runners in 1994, 1995 and 1996. She also represented Germany in the 1992 and 1993 Olympics. (BTW, the German word for female marathon runner is marathonläuferin.)
What is even better, is Uta is a huge supporter of the Orchard House, the Concord home I lived in while penning “Little Women.” And, as if that’s not enough, Uta has graciously chaired the Annual Benefit 5K / 10K Run & 5K Walk for Louisa May Alcatt’s Orchard House for nine straight years. The next race is Sunday, Sept. 14, so start training.
Uta, who was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1965, was first training to become a physician like her parents. She fell in love with running, then distance running. Always charitable, she founded “Take the Magic Step” foundation to promote and inspire us to take the first step toward self improvement. She is probably the most upbeat, positive and inspiring person you’ll ever encounter.
And don’t think it’s always been smooth running for Uta. Her first-place finish in the 1996 Boston Marathon was followed up with negative commentary on local sports talk radio and at water bubbler conversations around Boston. I don’t know about your area, but here, you’d think she brought disgrace to the race and her gender.
The 1996 Boston Marathon, which was also the 100th consecutive Boston Marathon, happened to fall on the heaviest flow Uta’s menstrual cycle. Menstruation is one factor female athletes have to track that their male counterparts don’t. Websites and training manuals devote chapters to different phases of menses. One affects the other.
The Boston Marathon is ALWAYS on the third Monday in April. The third Monday in April, however, may not be an ideal racing day for all qualifying women. Some female athletes will check their menstrual charts against the date and, despite the months of grueling training, will pass on their qualifying slot to someone on the waiting list. Others may forgo the stark white running shorts for the ones with the dark paisley print and hope for the best. Others, like Uta, will just go for it.
That’s what she did in 1996.
As many of us gals know, there are days in our cycles when we just want to curl up on the couch nearest the bathroom and watch reruns. Until Uta, we would never have dreamed of donning skimpy running shorts and racing through the streets and past the network television cameras and Sports Illustrated photographers during the worst days of our period, with blood and other accompaniments of the menstrual cycle running down our legs.
Yes, some crass talk-show hosts and Marathon watchers had a field day with Uta’s situation. There was even a broadcaster’s suggestion that women not race with men, so onlookers would not be exposed to such disgust. The negative speak went on and on.
Dan Shaughnessy, renowned sports columnist for the Boston Globe, to the rescue. In an absolutely beautiful interview following that race and the negative hype, Dan spoke with Uta about what he politely phrased her “intestinal difficulties.” Here is an excerpt:
Pippig had female issues at the worst possible time. She was in pain. She was a mess. And she thought about dropping out of the race.
“I had some problems with my period,” Pippig said shyly. “I didn’t expect it would become this worse . . . diarrhea. I felt not nice so I used a lot of water around me so that I look better and also for my legs that I could clean it up a bit.”
It can’t be easy to stay the course when you are exposed in this manner before television cameras and hundreds of thousands of spectators. Vanity is one thing. Dignity is another. And then there’s pain.
“After 4 miles, I was thinking several times to drop out because it hurt so much,” she said. “But in the end, I won.”
Not only did Uta win, she set a world record. She also set the record straight that even when the going gets tough and the going gets ugly, keep going.
p.s. join me on Facebook. search Louisa May Alcatt!