The fact is distance running is one of those things where if a participant has to take a rest stop, all normal societal norms and customs are abandoned. Have to go… then just go. No one is judging you.
The first time I ran the Boston Marathon was back in 1996, which was the 100th anniversary of the great race. Needless to say the Boston Marathon is one of those sporting events that gets a little bit of attention. Make it the 100th running of the race and there will be a few extra thousand set of eyes on the jaunt from the hamlet Hopkinton to Boston’s Back Bay. Toss in the fact that the race had the largest number of folks competing in a marathon (at that point in history), and the newsworthiness of it increases even more.
I remember that April day in 1996 as a sun-soaked but temperate one with gentle sea breezes blowing in our faces as we made our way to Boston. Couple all of this with the fact that the course starts with a pretty steep downhill portion and it made it easy to start out way too quickly. You know what they say about something being a marathon and not a sprint? Well, that’s especially true in marathons. You kind of need to pace yourself a bit.
Anyway, not far from my vantage point during the early portion of the race were the top women runners. Tegla Loroupe, a future word-record holder in the distance, was up there in the lead. So too was arguably the best women’s runner in the world in Uta Pippig. The problem was that by the halfway point Tegla was putting some distance between her and Uta to the point where it appeared as if it was going to end up as a cakewalk. Uta was fading badly and no one really knew why.
But oh boy oh boy did they ever find out. By overcoming a seemingly insurmountable 30-second deficit with a few miles to go, we learned very quickly what the problem was for Uta Pippig that sunny April day. It seemed as if it was Uta’s day in more ways than one.
Here, let this account of the race from Lorie Conway paint the picture:
On April 15 of this year, during the running of the 100th Marathon, Uta Pippig, the first woman to cross the finish line, had menstrual blood and diarrhea running down her legs.
While the crowd gathered in Copley Square roared their support, male commentators on radio and TV were, uncharacteristically, tongue-tied. Ironically, the only person to graphically describe what was happening on live TV was commentator Katherine Switzer. "Look, there's been a history of diarrhea in marathons, for any world class competitor knows it happens," Switzer said. "You just don't worry about it. You've got a race to run." There was no mention of bleeding. It was "diarrhea" that surprised people and that announcers picked up on. ...
I have to say that Uta showed an incredible amount of toughness that day that superseded her ability to win the Boston Marathon for the third year in a row. Certainly it was a toughness that I would never understand, even though just two years later on another sunny day in Washington, D.C., I could be found retching on the 14th Street Bridge more than 22 miles into the Marine Corps Marathon. It wasn’t the bile and Clif Bar remnants that had me down that day—it was the fact that it took me just 1:55 to run the first 21 miles of that race and 1:02 to run the last five.
Things like what happened to Uta Pippig don’t really happen in too many other sports. At least they don’t happen in a setting that other people find out about it. However, that wasn’t the case with my friend Elizabeth Haralam Shuba. Actually, people would not have heard about it if she hadn’t written about it, which is what she did. Hey, Beth has something to say, and needs to put her feelings into words. I dig that and can relate a bit.
See, I’ve known Beth ever since my family moved to Lancaster in 1981. She lived on Marietta Avenue and I lived on Woods. From James Buchanan Elementary, to Wheatland Junior High and on to McCaskey High, we were in the same vicinity for all those years. In fact, her dad was our family’s dentist (and a great dentist at that). So I had the knowledge that Beth could tell a story or two. She has that gift.
She also has no façades, which is something we all love about her. Check out this story she wrote for her site, “The Joy of Being a Monkey Wrench.” After you’ve read it, listen here:
Look, Beth is no Uta Pippig dashing over Heartbreak Hill looking like she’d taken on sniper fire to win the Boston Marathon. But there is something to be said for an athlete who preserves and fights through injury, nature or biology. That’s especially the case in soccer, where the Seattle club in the MLS looked as if they were being beaten by an angry mob during last week's debut for the Philadelphia Union. Those Seattle guys were rolling around on the grass and crying for the stretcher if a Philly guy even looked at them cross-eyed. It made me ashamed to be a man.
No one wants to see that kind of behavior. If there is going to be blood, at least it should be earned. That's what Uta and Beth have taught us.
Also on the seventh episode of the show, we talk about baseball with Curt Gill of the great podcast, Atlanta Baseball Talk. Curt breaks down the upcoming season for the Phillies' top competition in the NL East for us and explains why Atlantans might not be the most rabid of sports fans.
He also says to expect the Braves in the playoffs this year. The Braves and Phillies... together again.