A Tribute to a Trailblazer

Yesterday’s running of the Boston Marathon was one for the record books. Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai set a new world record for the distance of 2:03:02. That’s so fast that I’m not sure I could keep up with him if I were only running the final 0.2 miles with him. American Ryan Hall finished in 2:04:58 , which is not only a fantastically respectable time but it gives the US hope for medalling in London in 2012.

The women’s race was also wonderfully exciting. American Desiree Devila got outkicked along Boylston Street to finish two seconds behind winner Caroline Kilel of Kenya. Also impressive was the race of American Kara Goucher, who finished fifth in 2:24:52. That’s an impressive finish as it is, but considering Goucher gave birth to her first child just six months ago, it’s a wee bit mindblowing.

I ran the London Marathon in April 2004, eight months after I gave birth to my first child. I still remember pumping and dumping in the staging area minutes before being called to the starting line. Training for the event around my baby’s nursing and sleeping needs required a level of planning in opposition to my usual freeform life. I felt it was important, though, to continue to do what I loved and run a quality marathon post-partum. Well my 3:44 was pure peanuts compared to Goucher’s result.

All of us women marathoners have one key person to thank for paving the way into the sport we love. Norweigan Grete Waitz won the New York City Marathon nine times during my youth. Whereas other girls had teenage movie starts adorning their bedrooms, I had a poster of Waitz breaking the finish tape in Central Park up on my bedroom wall. To me, she represented someone who followed her dreams and played with the boys in their game and on their terms.
I followed Waitz’s career as she garnered Olympic medals in both the marathon and the 1500 meters. (To be so skilled at those two diverse distances is unheard of in today’s specialized sporting world.) The only time I didn’t cheer wholeheartedly for her was when she ran against American Joan Benoit in the 1984 Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles. Grete’s PR in the marathon was 2:24:54, just two seconds off of what Goucher ran at Boston yesterday.

I woke up this morning to read that Grete Waitz died in her native Oslo early today. She was only 57. Cancer doesn’t care that you’re a trailblazer.

Thank you, Grete, for what you did to inspire me and countless other women. May you rest in peace.

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