Packed with hilarious anecdotes, gossip from behind the scenes of major marathons, life lessons, and numerous fabulous photos, Marathon Woman is one of the best running books I've ever read. Be warned, however - do not read this book while you're alone as parts of it are so funny or moving you'll deeply regret not having had someone to read them out aloud to (as I continually did to my long-suffering husband while on holiday!)
Having seen the iconic photos of the day a race official tried to rip off Kathrine's race number when she entered the all-male Boston Marathon I was keen to know more about the incident and the woman who caused such a stir, and this book - part memoir, part historical document, part love story - certainly delivered on all counts. Fifteen years after I first started running marathons (I've now done 36 and two 56-mile ultras), it came as a real surprise to learn that being `allowed' to run 26.2 miles, which was seen as too gruelling for us delicate ladies, was all thanks to Kathrine Switzer. This is because she didn't just pave the way for elite women to enter marathons and campaign to get the women's marathon recognised as an Olympic sport, she tirelessly fought to make marathon running accessible to women throughout the world by developing the mass-participation women-only Avon Running programme.
Kathrine is a very experienced and accomplished journalist and this is evident throughout the book - she knows exactly how to keep you feverishly turning the pages by weaving strands from her often turbulent personal life with details of her punishing training schedule and stellar career. Kathrine's story is proof that the right training programme and sheer guts can turn an `ordinary' runner into an exceptional one (even if you have to work and commute): she ran her first marathon in a very average time of 4h20, went on to win the 1974 New York City Marathon with a time of 3h07, and subsequently did a PB of 2h51 in Boston in 1975. As a super-slow runner, who came last in three marathons in 2012, I found her story incredibly inspirational.
There are so many lessons to learn from Kathrine's journey: it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission (to satisfy her employer Avon, for whom she did PR, she strung a banner advertising the brand across the finish line of the Avon International Marathon in London at the last minute - so cunningly side-stepping the BBC's ban on advertising), that one should never let good ideas go to waste (she based her proposal for the Avon Running programme on scribbled notes she stuffed into a shoebox over many years) and that hard work always pays off.
I was formerly a fitness-phobe and marathon running has transformed my life and motivated me to write my book Running Made Easy Zest: Running Made Easy (Zest Magazine)
, which has inspired thousands of women in the UK to give walk/running a go. I only wish I could have read Kathrine's life-affirming book in my 20s as I'm sure it would have encouraged me to take up running 10 years earlier than I did. In Marathon Woman, Kathrine repeatedly proves how running is so much more than putting one foot in front of the other - it's a way of empowering us and giving life meaning.