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Running Like a Girl: Womens Running

Books and the Paradox of Tradition



Girl, Iris Young reflected on the ways in which girls tended to

engage in active movement.1 Using throwing as an example,
she described how studies found girls could not seem to run up to a
throw, used their arm instead of their entire body when pitching, and
took great care with physical activity, protecting the body as if it were
a fragile object. An active athletic woman herself, Young analyzed the
fragmented, restrictive, and protective patterns of movement that typified womens physical engagement with the world and pondered their
philosophical consequences. There is a tension, she contends, between
simultaneously using the body and protecting it. Youngs 1977 analysis draws parallels between feminine movement and the structure of
female existencea fragmented, restrictive, and immanent experience
of the world. Following the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty, Young
argues that ones intentional body movements define the active, reflective agent. Because women restrict their movements, confine them
to a limited space, and regard their bodies as objects that must be
protected and looked after, they limit their engagement with, and
potential in, the world.
Twenty years later one might argue, as indeed Young has, that
things have changed. Women have made important inroads into sport
and physical activity and can take athletic opportunities for granted. In
a retrospective critique of her original article, Young comments that
her daughter and her friends carry themselves with more openness,
more reach, more active confidence than many of [Youngs] generation

The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 42, No. 6, 2009

r 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Running Like a Girl


did (Young 286). Others, including Judith Halberstam, echo her beliefs, arguing that strength, power, and fulfilling engagement in physical activity are today accessible to and accessed by women providing a
major step toward gender parity. While these authors are correct to
recognize that there have been significant changes in the social context
of young women in western culture, which may provide a canvas for a
less constrained form of physical movement, many chords from
Throwing Like a Girl still resonate for young women.
A short anecdote may help to illustrate this. A few years ago, I was
coaching two groups of cross-country runners from paired girls and
boys high schools in my small New Zealand city. The girls were
talented, committed, and experienced runners; they had competed in
many races that season, from club events to interschool competitions.
The boys were a motley, generally nonathletic crew recruited, mostly
against their wishes, to participate in the school cross-country events.
Before the national championships, my husband and I assembled the
two groups at the track to help them learn how to jump hurdles.
Although I am by far a more accomplished runner than my husband
and was then reigning provincial champion, he demonstrated the hurdling technique, at my request. We took each group to different steeple-chase barriers. The experienced girls ran up to the barrier and
uniformly baulked. Not one dared take the jump the first time. The
boys all approached the barrier and hurdled without hesitation. By the
end of the session all the boys were hurdling with ease, while the girls
struggled to vault.
My own hesitancy and the trepidation shown by these girls in the
late 1990s illustrates what Young had described fifteen years previously
as feminine movement, when a woman sees her body as fragile
encumbrance, rather than the media for the enactment of [her] aims
(150). Not only running itself, but womens running books reveal the
persistence of feminine movement in some contemporary womens experience of exercise, perhaps affecting their own subjectivity. Running
books remain a tool which reproduces the discourse of the female body
as fragile, in need of extraneous support, and which reinforce womens
traditional role of wife, mother, and nurturer, at odds with other
arguments that stipulate an increasing social empowerment of women
in the sporting context.
Books guiding womens behavior have figured prominently as educational tools for middle- and upper-class women over centuries.


Annemarie Jutel

From etiquette to fashion, housekeeping to education, manuals range

from Every Womans Encyclopaedia and What a Young Woman Ought to
Know (Wood-Allen) to White Gloves and Party Manners (Young M &
Buchwald) In many ways, the running book continues this tradition.
In the 1960s, long-dista running became more than a competitive
athletic event. The idea of going for long, slow runs for physical,
emotional, and social benefit emerged, and in the period of social
transformation that typified the 1960s and 70s, running moved from
its specialty area of elite sport to appeal to a wide public. Books
contributed to this widening of appeal, stressing the need for cardiovascular fitness, both for health and well-being and for competitive
runners over all distances.
The jogging craze took place in the context of 1970s feminist
awareness, and while women fought for inclusion in previously maleexclusive long-distance running events, they also wrote about their
cathartic personal discoveries as runners. Similarly, when the numbers
of women involved in womens running increased, so too did written
attention to their exploits and to their requirements. Some running
magazines created columns to cover womens running events, and
others simply expanded their coverage, adding pictures and results.
The womans running book also emerged, with the earliest, Womens
Running by Joan Ullyot appearing in 1976. Since then, over a dozen
books on womens running have appeared in the English language.
Most tout their content as contributing to social and physical transformation, relying on the rhetoric of alternative lifestyle and liberation
(but never meaning it) and the promotion of neo-conservativism, individualism, the understanding of oneself, and ones body as an asset.
They reassured women, coaxed them, highlighted biological difference,
and focussed on charm and grace. Promoting womens sports as a
spectacle of femininity was vital to their acceptance. Distance running
was no exception, and authors of womens running books, consciously,
or otherwise, assisted in this promotion. Ironically, the womans running book announced both her liberation and her containment in traditional femininity. These books seemed to be products of divergent
traditions, fusing the traditional book of manners with a more contemporary emphasis on alternative lifestyles, self-help and the managerial culture of self-transformation.
A recent analysis of best-selling self-help books has identified that
the most popular self-help books were those most overt and extreme in

Running Like a Girl


their endorsement of traditional gender relationships (Zimmerman,

Holm, & Haddock). As the authors of this study conjecture, perhaps it
is a fear of fundamental change that underpins the popularity of these
self-help books. Running books fit quite neatly into this framework.
The womens running book as a genre combines both an appeal to
liberation and reinforcements of womens traditional role, addressing
an implied audience of women seeking independence and success. Because of these characteristics, the womens running book reveals the
tension between traditional female roles and the advent of postfeminism, yet bound to helplessness. A survey of these womens running
books from their conception in the 1970s to their most current versions at the beginning of the millennium reveals a persistent tension
between the traditions of femininity and the increasing opportunities
available to women today.2

What Inroads?
Heywood and Dworkin have announced the female athletes emergence as
a new cultural icon. No longer labelled as deviant or tagged as exceptional, the strong woman is an image, they propose, with mass appeal
used by corporate America to market any number of products and services. Heywood and Dworkins Built to Win celebrates the active, athletic,
and ripped female athlete, in contrast to the demure, passive, and subservient traditional woman. A degendering of society, they argue, allows
women to occupy the previously male-dominated preserve of sport, to be
valued for strength and performance as opposed to submissiveness, and to
sell this image of strength to a similarly economically powerful female
demographic. Television shows, such as Fear Factor and Gladiators, for
example, regularly showcase the female warrior.
However, there are contradictions in this image, which Heywood
and Dworkin also bring to the fore. First, the image of the female
athlete as powerful, sexy, and fulfilled does not necessarily match the
experience that all, or even a majority of women have of sport and sport
participation. Second, sport advocacy groups often acritically cast
womens participation in sport as a kind of panacea, a position at odds
with the academic position that sport is an institution which does
not challenge its core assumptions. Quite expectedly, both positions
vis-a`-vis sport and its potential for empowerment or oppression are


Annemarie Jutel

fraught with contradictions. On the one hand, seeing sport as uniquely

liberating is neglecting the oppressive discourses contained in the body
culture practice. On the other, seeing sport as uniquely oppressive is
neglecting the pleasure and self-discovery, which many active women
know intimately. Running books reproduce these contradictions in a
salient manner identifying physical, aesthetic, and role-based criteria
casting their readers as tentative, image-conscious, heterosexual, and
chatty hormonal creatures, who can, nonetheless, learn to run and
benefit from the transformations running brings.

A Real Woman, Just Like You! The Inspirational Model or

the Rhetoric of Self-Realization
Both early and contemporary writers of womens running books coax
and cajole their readers into believing in their ability to take the first
running strides. They do this by establishing the credibility of the
author as a woman who has managed to become a runner. In a formulaic manner, these books introduce the woman runner author whose
life has been profoundly changed by running. She first establishes her
identity as a real woman, despite perhaps her ability to run. She will
point out that her life is no different from that of other women: she has
children, a job, a husband, and at one time, a big tummy. This is the
means by which she confirms that she is not some kind of superwoman,
but rather a normal, ordinary gal. Then, she explains how much running has brought her in terms of self-discovery, self-esteem, physical
well-being, and so on. And finally, in the gentlest kind of way, she
provides her reader with the most supportive of encouragements.
Really! You CAN do it! Ill help you. Itll be OK.
Olympic champion marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson plays down
her sporting performances in her Running for Women. While she acknowledges her competitive skills and the deep passion with which she
has been competing for over twenty years, she reassures her readers that
she is like all other women, with her biggest challenge being the quest
for combining family and career (xii). She affirms that having my
children has been an even greater highlight than my athletic career
(xii). Similarly, Gayle Barron, who wrote The Beauty of Running after
winning the Boston Marathon in 1978, returns to the moment she first

Running Like a Girl


took up running in 1966 while an undergraduate at the University of

Georgia. She explained that her motivation was simple and very much
like the motivation that could drive any woman: she wanted to be with
her boyfriend, already a regular runner.
It is not just being an accomplished runner-cum-real-woman that
serves as the inspirational model for the potential readers, but also being
an uncoordinated, a heavy drinking, or a heavy smoking running convert.
Previously being a failure serves equally well as the inspirational model
for potential runners. Author Alison Turnbull, a middle-of-the-pack
runner, describes herself as a lumpy, half-hearted, fair-weather jogger
who got into shape once a year (15). She invites her readers to meet
some other women who run. Women with whom you can identify . . . and
say, Oh yes, thats like me! . . . These women can help you (17). Liz
Sloan describes the transition from roll-your-own smoker to cross country
runnertotally addicted to runningand provides a series of portraits of
women with a range of unhealthy habits who have made the jump to
becoming fitness enthusiasts through running, discovering freedom and a
sense of achievement. Women of all ages are . . . discovering benefits they
would never have imagined, she explains (8).
And somewhere in between fit a range of writers who became athletes, though certainly not Olympic champions. Joan Ullyot, author of
the first book on womens running, describes her evolution from exercise hater to bored exerciser, to adamant, and, indeed, elite runner.
She started trying to exercise as a way of warding off middle-age
spread. I weighed 145 pounds, and I am tall, so it wasnt that much
weight gain, but I went up to a size twelve, and I had always been a ten
before. I saw this as evidence of an inexorable pattern which would
continue, I was certain (14). She tried everything from Canadian Air
Force exercises to jogging in place, but only when she started to run
did she discover the enjoyment of exercise. This is the key, she writes.
You arent going to do any exercise unless you love it and discover
youre not a whole person without it (176). She also reassures women
that she herself has very little will power and (is) basically a hedonist.
I wouldnt run if I didnt like it (10).

Youre OK!
The writers try to convince women, through their own example, that
they CAN run, despite their reservations. You see? Here we are, very


Annemarie Jutel

much women, and we can do it so you can, too. Reassurance is an

important theme in the introduction to womens running books. After
establishing the real womanship of the author, the books proceed to
comfort and support the runners-in-waiting.
Janet Heinonen, who wrote the Sports Illustrated Running for Women
in 1977, acknowledges most womens fears: You dont have to be
athletic to be a runner. For the woman who despairs at the thought of
trying to master a passable tennis game, who trips on her feet playing
racquetball, or who cant keep her balance on a bicycle, runnings a
snap (11). One of the few male authors to write about womens
running, Manfred Steffny, joins with Rosemarie Breuer to provide
supportive encouragement: It is of primary importance for every
woman who wants to run to dispel the myths that surround her. It is
imperative that she knows her body is built for endurance, that
fragility is a mindset and not a physiological state. She must believe
that she has the ability to learn by taking directions, criticism, and
supportthat her motor skills are adaptable, and that she may sustain
injuries but can recover from them (105). But the editors of The
Complete Woman Runner confidently point out that the women need no
longer feel shy about entering the sports world for fear of being labelled masculine or tomboy (5) in case there were any fears on that
account. Implicit is the assumption that women are not able to go out,
unaided, and undertake a running program. They are assumed to lack
confidence and self-belief; these books approach their readers as if they
were unable to make the basic decision about running unassisted.
Sue Stricklin, also in The Complete Woman Runner, explains that women
need inspiration and reassurance in the beginning because they come
from a relatively impoverished athletic background (9). Like many
others, she focuses on how to begin, a question that seems to be absent
from the generic running books for men. By contrast, books for men
assume the decisive nature of men runners. Rather than patronizing the
newcomer, these books go straight to the nuts and bolts of practice,
offering a stepwise approach to just doing it. Typically, they discuss
the physiology of sport, different kinds of training methods, and the
equipment required (clothing, shoes, and training facilities), rather than
commencing with the doubts and fears of the runner-to-be.3 While the
mens running book genre might be classified as a how-to guide, the
womans is more adequately described as self-helpmanuals designed
to solve problems rather than to serve as simple reference books.

Running Like a Girl


Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Looking Good!
Not only do the bulk of womens running books focus on womens need
for extraneous support and reassurance in their very choice to engage in
a running programme, many are blatant in their dedication to traditional feminine values of delicate beauty, grace, and feminine charm;
running is celebrated for contributing to becoming a better woman.
Steffny and Breuer were wary of frightening women runners away.
A woman concerned about her appearance, they wrote, should realize that different running styles can have varying effects on the figure.
The toe-heel style tends to accentuate the calf muscles. The heel-toe
style, on the other hand, will slim down the calves (17).
Running book authors quite clearly recognize that women will
worry about the masculinizing affects of running, and the theme of
keeping feminine threads throughout the typical womens running
book. Whether the preoccupation with femininity focuses on beauty
and body image, or on being a good wife, it is prevalent in the womens
running book genre. Barron notes that Many women worry that a lot
of running will make them overly muscular and less feminine. She is
quick to assuage any concern: this wont happen unless its in your
genetic makeup to be that way in the first place. Running improves
muscle tone and strength, but only rarely does it increase muscle bulk.
Its really nothing to worry about (40). In fact, she points out further
along in her book, It is quite possible, and rather easy, to run as hard
and as fast as you can and still look nice (179).
The most important perceived effect that running would have on
the figure and looks is in the area of general weight loss, and womens
running books devote many pages to this subject. Kathryn Lance, in
her Running for Health and Beauty, saw womens interest in running in
very simple terms: Since most of us just want to improve our fitness
and appearance, running is the ideal exercise (19). But Ullyot, Barron,
Heinonen, Switzer, Scott, and Steffny and Breuer all spill ink on the
advantages of running for weight loss and figure maintenance. Scott
congratulates women who come to running with the goal of weight
loss, because running is one of the most efficient sports for losing
weight (172), and Deborah Reber, as well as others, points out that
running burns up more calories than practically any other sport.


Annemarie Jutel

Beyond weight loss, however, many of the books focus on other aspects
of traditional feminine values of beauty and grace. Obviously, titles such as
The Beauty of Running, Running for Health and Beauty, and Running and
Walking for Women over Forty: The Road to Sanity and Vanity appeal to
concerns about appearance. Barrons book includes a number of fashion
style shots, with soft focus and careful composition. She writes about skin
care and clothing selection, as does Lance, who chatters on about the
commonsense rules of clothing: you want to be comfortable, and presumably you want to look as good as possible (19). She also specifies what
sorts of jewellery you can wear while running, pointing out that heavy
earrings that bounce can make your earlobes sore after a while (38).

In your Place
But it is not just looking good that keeps you feminine; theres nothing
like a good man. The husband theme also winds through the pages of
many of these books. Many of them contain pictures of the author of
the respective book running with her husband. Barron even shares her
copyright with her now estranged husband. She includes multiple
pictures of her husband Ben, running and relaxing with her, and also
pictures of other running couples sharing the good times. She does
caution women that while its fine for a woman to use running as a
means to achieve independence, [it should not be] at the expense of her
marriage and family, and advises her readers that sharing something
with your mate, or someone else you care about, is more enjoyable than
going it alone . . . the main idea is to get out there together (42).
Ellen Clark explains in The Complete Woman Runner that any woman
who has a family to care for, a house to manage, and who still wants to
embark on a running program will soon discover its tough going.
However, Im here to give hope and to tell her that it can be done. Its
not always easy. It is possible to fit running into a hectic family lifestyle (63). She also suggests some means for helping the husband to
learn to cultivate an interest in running himself:
A wife can leave some good books on beginning running around the
house (Dr Kenneth Coopers book, Aerobics, is a good one) or invite
her husband to races. It isnt the end of the world, though, if he
never likes running . . . But [she should] be careful about when and
with whom she runs! A wife who runs only with one male companion can get herself in a lot of hot water with her non-running

Running Like a Girl


husband . . . The wife should determine if running exclusively with

a male companion is worth the risk of alienating her husband and
having him turn against the sport of running. (71)
She also explores the problem of the famous wife who reverses the
gender order by becoming a world-class runner and beating her husband and provides examples of how to cope with this.
Janet Heinonen quotes one female runner as saying that running is
good for relationships, because any time an individual feels better
about herself, theres going to be more loving and giving in a relationship (147). But, she also relates the story of a woman whose
traditional husband did not tolerate her running. She describes them
being headed for divorce. Interestingly, it was running that brought
them back together as he saw his wife in a new light, started to come to
see her running, and now is happy in his married life.
It is not just the earlier books that highlight marriage and partnership. Claire Kowalchiks 1999 Complete Book of Running for Women
reminds her audience that as women, we are traditionally the nurturers of relationships, the keepers of the family (381). She believes
that running enhances a womans ability to relate to their partners and
families and, indeed, contributes to their health as well as to her own.
Providing examples of other womens attempts to include their husbands in running, she also counsels readers to help their husbands
accept this commitment to running, including coaxing the man to
come racing with the promise of postrace beer and food.
Dagney Scott, in her 2000 Runners World Complete Book of Womens
Running, suggests that If your partner is less than supportive of your
running, try to determine the reason (139). She recommends encouraging him to take up the sport, to avoid the gap between partners in
terms of fitness, lifestyle, and time commitment.
Mens running books do not prompt men to plan for child care or
cooking. Nor do they provide solutions to the marital problems that can
result from their commitment to running. They do not coax the runners
partner into appreciating his lifestyle: the success of the marriage is the
womans concern, and is not relevant to his training program anyway.

Lets be Friends
Tone, in addition to content, caters to traditional roles. A conversational approach emphasizes confidence and intimacy, establishing a


Annemarie Jutel

forum for sisterly interactions. Lance has a chapter titled For Women
Only that invites hush-hush confidences about menstruation, pregnancy, and motherhood. Everything you wanted to ask quietly about
running: does it make your uterus drop, your breasts sag, cure cellulite? But the tone is not confined to confidentiality. Some books are just
chattythe kind of talk you would have over a cup of tea. Writing in
the first person, the writer is the readers friend, who just happens in to
chat and talk knowingly about the issues. Bridson, author of Run for It,
acknowledges intimacy as a source of knowledge: I am just a woman
who has spent a large portion of her life struggling with some of these
issues and spent many an hour at kitchen tables talking to other
women about their problems (11). The kitchen table is a feminine
ritual that draws women together. bell hooks describes the intimacy of
the table with respect to beauty culture, an intimacy that reproduces
itself in the chatty confidences of the running book:
There is a deeper intimacy in the kitchen on Saturday when hair is
pressed, when fish is fried, when sodas are passed around, when soul
music drifts over the talk. We are women together. This is our ritual
and our time. (92)
Kathryn Switzer implies the same intimacy as she writes in the firstperson plural to group her readers and bring them closer to her. Her
readers are not distinct from her, but belong to her enclave of womenjust-like-me: Those of us lucky enough to have caught the train to
fitness as young adults are experiencing a midlife that our parents and
grandparents never dreamed possible. But until now, weve had no
guidelines. Now we have this book, and we have each other. Lets go
forward together as pioneers of the next generation of fitness (16).
Being included in Kathryns circle of friends makes running seem,
perhaps, a more achievable project to the noninitiated as it relies upon
traditional forms of feminine interaction.

Biological Difference
Discussion of biological difference reifies femininity and feminine roles
and helps to justify much of the concern with femininity. In the 1970s,
defenders of womens running used medical science to provide reassurance about traditional expectations of woman. German coach and

Running Like a Girl


doctor, Ernst van Aaken was pivotal in the fight for womens inclusion
in long-distance events. While supporting women to run events not
previously open to them, van Aaken focussed on the biological particularities of women to uphold his argument. This critical and minute
focus on those things that distinguish women from men was one more
way of reassuring the public that the marathon would not disrupt the
gender order. He explained in the Van Aaken Method that the weakness
of woman was what protected her from injury. Her less powerful muscles were her protection against overstress injury from explosive muscle
functions, and [were] natures prescription for endurance performance
(82). He promoted the idea that women were metabolically better
suited than men to run the marathon and argued that their higher body
fat and better oxidative use of fat explained their particular suitability
for running. He described the woman as a metabolic athlete (142).
Van Aakens influence on many of the early writers is indisputable.
Ullyot participated in events that he organized in Germany and clearly
supported his views on womens running, devoting a chapter to van
Aaken in her book. She argues that women have special characteristics
that suit them for running and notably focuses on their extra adipose
tissue as a source of energy for long-distance running. Their biological
difference justifies their performances, but, at the same time, confirms
their womanhood; there may be potential for performance, but not for
becoming a man. She points out that muscle bulk appears to develop
in the presence of large amounts of androgenic hormones. So women,
with only low levels of circulating androgens, can increase strength
dramatically without appearing musclebound (89). Their womanhood (low levels of androgenic or male hormones) allows them to be
strong, without appearing inappropriately masculine.
Other authors, including Heinonen and Joan Benoit Samuelson
underscore gender-related performance differences. A woman has more
delicately constructed bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and her
wider pelvis creates a mechanical disadvantage for running, writes
Heinonen. Unfortunately, she continues, from the standpoint of
athletic achievement, the belief that exercise creates bulging muscles in
women is only a myth (69 70).
Steffny was a protegee of van Aaken and worked with him as a
coach. He describes the distinct running style of the woman, couched
in terms of comparative difference: the educated eye is able to distinguish between a male and female runner at a great distance, simply


Annemarie Jutel

because of the difference in strides . . . Put simply a man runs in a

muscular, linear fashion, while a womans running is usually more fluid
and circular (15).
While some of the accentuation of feminine biology is celebratory,
other mentions problematize the female body. Hormonal differences
provide a common focus for discussion. Scott points out how female
hormones can interfere with the sporting performance of women:
for every similarity between men and women runners there is a
significant difference. For example, although the training principles
of gaining speed and fitness remain the same for men and women,
fluctuations in womens hormone levels can mean that its more
complicated for them to peak for an event.
On the other handpossibly thanks to their hormoneswomen
seem better cut out for endurance than men are, because their pain
thresholds are generally higher. And though the principles of biomechanics are the same for both sexes, some women are more prone
to knee and foot problems than men, because they have wider hips.
The female metabolism even seems to react differently to exercise,
resulting in different nutritional needs. The list goes on. (4)
Hormones are also held liable for negative experiences outside of running. Despite an overarching focus in her 2002 book on how running
empowers and frees women, Karen Bridsons discussions of hormones
are in line with prescriptive Victorian health and activity prescriptions.
She depicts the women as enslaved to their physiology:
Hormones. From the time they start raging inside our bodies in
puberty, these body chemicals have a huge impact on the emotional
health of women. Between premenstrual syndrome (PMS), pregnancy, postpartum depression and menopause, the majority of our
adult lives can be spent coping with hormonal ups and downs. The
physical side effects of these fluctuations can be severeeven
potentially fataland the psychological effects can be, at times,
debilitating. (41)
Compare this with George J. Engelmann who addressed the American
Gynecological Association in 1900 on the undulating nature of female
Many a young life is battered and forever crippled in the breakers of
puberty if it crosses these unharmed and is not dashed to pieces on

Running Like a Girl


the rock of childbirth, it may still ground on the ever-recurring

shallows of menstruation, and, lastly, upon the final bar of the
menopause ere protection is found in the unruffled waters of the
harbor beyond the reach of the sexual storms. (9 10)
Although there are obviously subtle differences in approach between
Englemann and Bridson, the latter does not break away from the views
which cast woman as victim of her physiology, views that Emily Martin observes in contemporary medical metaphors of menstruation,
menopause, and birth, where menstruation is seen as a curse, birth a
trauma, and menopause a burden. Bridson continues, one of lifes cruel
ironies is that just as we stop menstruating, leaving premenstrual
syndrome (PMS) behind, we are thrown a potentially even more disruptive hormonal curveball, menopause (44 45).
One could conjecture that erectile dysfunction in a man, for example, could have similar devastating effects on his sense of well-being as,
say, PMS. However, it is hardly a subject that comes to the fore in
books on running for men, despite the fact that improved general
health, the influx of endorphins, and the psychological benefits of
running purported as being useful in the prevention of PMS could at
least be theorized to have the same benefits for male runners. This
accentuation of the needs created by feminine biology may be simply a
justification of Roland Barthess words: The voice of the natural, has
ever been a voice for the status quo, which is quick to claim that nature
has rendered woman less able than man (in Vertinsky 3).

Revolution Gone Awry

How did this happen? Why would a successful female runner need to
go the way of emphasising traditional femininity? Amby Burfoot, an
accomplished male marathoner who was an early publisher of Runners
World Magazine, described the womens running revolution in the
foreword to Dagny Scotts 2000 book on running:
This is a revolution, make no mistake about it. And it has happened
because running is the perfect sport for women . . . . Many women
are disciplined and determined and incredibly well-organized. They
have to be to succeed in all the roles society layers on themjob,
housework, mother, wife . . . . Women also excel at running because
they understand the importance of patience and following direc-


Annemarie Jutel

tions. Guys? Not always so bright. My wife cooks meals according

to recipes, and they always come out delicious. I make things up as I
go along, yet I cant understand why everyone refuses to eat my
concoctions. (viii)
Running may have been a new activity for many women, but it was not
an activity that forced women out of their traditional places, and the
running books that helped them into running, reflected this: Women
could run and remain feminine, which was perhaps what both they and
the public wanted. As Kathryn Switzer writes:
Now I find I am a pioneer again, but I am no longer alone. There are
many thousands of you over forty who also are ready to challenge
myth and tradition. Like me, you are determined that ageing and
the changes it brings will not deprive you of fitness, energy and
good looks. (16)
Dagney Scott discusses the bonding that develops through running:
Women develop a special sorority on the roads. This bond is an
understanding based on acceptance, and appreciation of how far they
have come, a knowing wink that says how much is yet to be gained
(1). What Scott does not underline, and probably has not identified in
her own mind, and even less in the minds of her readers, is that the
members of the sorority have run many a mile, but on a circular course.
They have finished up in the same place they started, fitter, yes, but
just as womanly. While Heywood and Dworkin celebrate the empowered image of the female athlete, the female jogger, the hesitant
reader of guides to womens running, is conceived of as no more empowered than her seventies counterparts.

I Just Want to Run!

Running books obviously maintain the status quo, and hence provide
women with a framework that is both believable and reassuring: you
can be a woman and run. Being a woman is confirmed by the emphasis on traditional values: running is just an adjunct to an experience of being, rather than a transformation of that being. How then
does this traditional portrayal and support of women reconcile with the
change Heywood and Dworkin identify in the cultural public perception of the female athletic body? First, it is important to realize that we

Running Like a Girl


are talking about two distinct groups: on the one hand, the elite
athlete, and on the other, the active woman interested in physical
activity. While strength and empowerment may be acknowledged in
the avowed athlete, it is lacking as a feature in the publications designed to appeal to the amateur. Second, we should consider the role
that the iconic female athletic body plays in the establishment of
normative definitions of feminine beauty. Athletic performance, rather
than achieving the perfect body, is the pursuit of female athletes, but
their bodies, with toned and cut musculature, become positioned as the
elusive ideal to which other women must aspire, not unlike the list of
prescriptions proffered by traditional womens advice and etiquette
books about acceptable feminine presentation and comportment. It is no
longer the twenty-three-inch waist that must be girded, but so many
percent body fat, or so many kilometers run. Finally, while the themes
present in womens running books seem to remain constant over the last
quarter century, the context in which they are read has changed, and the
emergence of the strong woman as cultural icon is perhaps the most
important change. It may not affect the hesitant, tentative dabbler with
great immediacy, it does provide an alternative avenue that was not
apparent to women reading Joan Ullyots 1976 Womens Running.
Here, we might make a distinction between the running book and
the activity that it promotes. Womens running has evolved from its
1970s status when few women went running, and even fewer ran races.
In 1967, for example, Kathrine Switzer was banned from the Amateur
Athletic Union after participating against the then-rules of the organization in the Boston Marathon, which stipulated women could not
race in distances longer than one-and-a-half miles and could not race
with men. Since 1984, however, the womens marathon has become an
Olympic sport, and a higher proportion of women than men participate in road races in many western countries. Running itself is no
longer a marginalized activity for women, but a commonplace recreational occupation. But running, paradoxically, has the potential to
import the constraints of the traditional gender order contained in the
womens running books in its practices. I have argued elsewhere that
the successful emergence of the womens marathon was due to the fact
that running did not threaten gender order in the way that other sports
might (Jutel). It neither jeopardizes the runners womanly charms
by transforming them into muscle-bound Amazons, nor the sports
manly reputation with women outclassing the male fields, criteria that


Annemarie Jutel

Susan Cahn has stipulated are required for the acceptance of womens
Both positioning running as a site for the reproduction of traditional
femininity and as a tool for liberating fulfilment are problematic in the
absence of critical reflection. And books which cast women as incapable
and dependent may help women to get out the door but do little to
truly empower them when the guiding text is framed by a context of
helplessness. This nestles in seamlessly with a larger cultural framework, which persists in delivering a divided message of empowerment
in the context of traditional womanhood.
While I have, in this essay, constructed an account of womens running
books as grounded in tradition, this is not to imply that it speaks simultaneously and without question to oppression. Running books that
promote traditional femininity may still serve a positive transformative
purpose. Ultimately, the health, psychological, and social benefits associated with regular exercise are still gained by women who run, and if the
books approach enables engagement by traditionally motivated women
into exercise practice, then they offer transformation. The transformation
is physical, while the social framework for the exercise remains traditional.
The meaning conferred upon the experience of running is what positions it
as a transformative process rather than the footsteps themselves. For the
most part, the authors of womens running books, whether individually
liberated by their experiences or not, have restricted their readers experience of transformation by providing a too-explicit traditional meaning.
On the other hand, they may have expanded the scope of what elements
are contained in, and promoted by, traditional femininity that today embraces notions of physicality and strength.

1. Young originally presented this piece in 1977, however, I have relied on a 1990 reproduction
as indicated in the endnotes.
2. I must note that I too have written running books for women: La course a` pied au feminin, was
published in 1988 (Amphora: Paris), and was the first book in French written specifically for
women runners. The New Zealand Womans Guide to Running (Longacre Press: Dunedin, NZ)
was published in Australasia, and later in England and Korea. My own work quite clearly
embodies the paradoxes I describe. For the purposes of this paper, which does not intend to be
an autoethnography, I will make reference to my own work impersonally in the same manner
as I do the work of others.
3. See Lydiard A., Gilmour G. Running with Lydiard; Van Aaken E. Van Aaken Method; my own,
Pratique de la course a` pied; and Glover B, Shepherd J. The Runners Handbook.

Running Like a Girl


Works Cited
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Cahn, Susan. Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth Century
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Clark, Ellen. Dealing with the Family. The Complete Woman Runner.
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Engelmann, George J. The Presidents Address. 1900: Transactions of
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Annemarie Jutel

Steffny, Manfred, and Rosemarie Breuer. Running for Women: A Basic

Guide for the New Runner. New York: Collier Books, 1985.
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Annemarie Jutel is an associate professor in the School of Midwifery at
Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand. On the one hand, her academic focus is
on the sociology of health and illness, and she has written extensively about
the overweight-as-disease, the aesthetic of health, and other related themes.
On the other hand, she has both participated in and written about competitive
womens running for over four decades. It is from a critical reflection upon
these writings and others like it that this paper emerges.

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