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Tallahassee Marathon News - First Ladies of Running

David Yon, January 31, 2018

The Buttercups have an all women relay team entered in Sunday’s Tallahassee Marathon and their timing was perfect to win copies of Amby Burfoot’s book First Ladies of Running recounting “22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries who changed the Sport Forever.”

Please forgive me for sometimes not being able to stop writing about things (or should I say typing them).  However, I do often find myself and my fellow macho men to be amazingly dense.  How can I not marvel at our astonishing behavior? Why was it we thought we can limit how far women could run?    

On any given Tuesday morning you will find men and women running intervals on the Maclay track as Bill Lott and Gary Droze bark out times.  Total distances usually rise to 3 miles. Hard laps range from 400 to 1600 meters each and are followed by a short rest (real short if the fish have been biting) and then another hard distance between 400 and 1600 meters.  Often after completing a hard section, some of the women runners, just like the men, are bent over gasping for air. Some may even take a knee. But somehow they return to complete the next one.

So, First Ladies opens with the story of Grace Butcher, born in 1934.  Despite her love for distance running she found it nearly impossible to find a cross country or track team on which to compete.  Burfoot begins chapter 1 with this quote from Butcher:

Running and writing both seem like a calling to me – something I’ve done ever since I can remember. One is for the mind, the other for the body. It seems as if I have to do both to be who I am. They run like parallel streams through my life.

All I can say is wow!  Except, I do view running as good for both the mind and the body.  After a long, almost desperate search, Grace’s mother finally found a track team an hour away from their home.  Grace grew up with posters of milers (all men at the time) on the wall and signed letters “FOS” for Future Olympic Star.  She quickly found out, however, that the longest event for women in the Olympics and in competition in the U.S. was the 200-meter sprint.

In 1928, women were given the opportunity to compete in the 800-meter race at the Amsterdam Olympics, but as Burfoot tells it, when several of the women collapsed after crossing the finish line, officials quickly dropped the event from the schedule – even though it was common for male runners to do the same thing (remembers those mornings at Maclay).  But Grace didn’t make Amby’s list because she never got to run her natural distance in competition; to the contrary she just kept pounding on the door until it opened. First, she ran an exhibition 800, the only woman in the event, and eventually became the “first modern American 800-meter runner, a two-time national indoor 800-meter champion and the 1959 U.S. National 800-meter champion.” Along the way, she even found a few miles and the 800-meter race for women added back to the Olympic schedule, this time to stay.  On Sunday, there will be an even split between men and women running the Tallahassee Half and Full Marathons.  A salute to Grace Butcher.  We promise, not gets pull off the course after 200 meters.