fitness running

Meet My Mom: One of the First Female Marathon Runners Ever

Who run the world?

They often say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In my case, I am the spitting image of my mom back in her early 20’s, right down to the unruly Italian hair (maybe not the height). I often attribute my random urge to suddenly start running down to good old genetics. You see, back when marathon running was truly reserved for crazy people, my mom was doing it. It’s only a no-brainer that I’d start doing it, too.

I’ve always considered my mom a real trailblazer. In fact, she was running the Chicago marathon when there were only a few dozen participants, and a majority of them were definitely not female. When I read the story of Katherine Switzer, I couldn’t help but think of my mom. Back in the 1970’s, female runners were rare, beautiful birds flying through a lot of choppy, sexist  winds.

That’s when it hit me that I had this amazing fountain of information about what it was like “back in the day” for female runners. As you are about to see, my mom is very humble about her running career. To add some substance to her answers, this woman won countless 5k/8k/10k’s and dominated Chicago when marathons were real niche events. I hope to ask her more questions in the future, for now, here’s a conversation we had that covered the basics of her running career.

Why did you start running?

I started running in the 1970’s because I always noticed that the girls with the nicest legs were either dancers or runners. Also, York High School was near the Catholic high school that I attended. York was famous for their running coach, Joe Newton. They always won state competitions in track. Coach Newton passed away last year at the age of 88.

#tbt Mom

What’s different from the marathons of yesteryear versus those today?

Marathons in the past had a lot fewer people and certainly a lot fewer women. Marathons also did not charge you as much as they do today. It was a $25  entry fee. You’d get a free shirt and lots of other free stuff.

You were one of the first women to seriously run marathons. Did you face any challenges being a woman?

I never faced any challenge running a marathon as a woman. The biggest challenge I had was planning my own running schedule and work out programs. I would be at the library checking out as many running books as I could. I loved reading Runner’s World.

What is your best memory from running the marathon?

My best memory running the marathon was: finishing. I realized that I hadn’t trained properly. When I hit mile 22, I wanted to quit. Running those last 4 miles was a killer. At that time, I was a nurse. When I was done, I had to work the night shift at Elmhurst Hospital…crazy!

What is your worst memory of running the marathon?

My worst memory of running the marathon was getting stitches in my side. I’d adjust my breathing, but it seemed like nothing worked. Legs felt great, but not my stomach.

Do you have a favorite running memory?

I was running a 10k in Elmhurst. I was decked out in this beautiful white tracksuit with my hair flowing and not tied back. As I ran this race, it was a shock to me how much better I was then the sparse amount of women running because I had been training for marathons. To be honest, a 10k was easy breezy. I remember at the awards ceremony walking up for my first place trophy thinking that I made this look like nothing. Plus, I looked pretty darn good to boot! Too bad they all had no idea how hard I was training every day (and looking like crap while doing it). I remember hearing whispers, “Look at her!”

What was your running “routine”?

My running routine: I ran 6 miles every day. My motto was, “There is no such thing as a bad day in the life of a runner.”

I never ate before a race. Also, it was a must that I had to go to the bathroom before a race.

Most of the time, I ran after my 7:00 am-3: 00 pm shift as a nurse. I ran at Elmhurst College, Wheaton College, the indoor track at York High School, the Elmhurst YMCA, and…the cemetery. When I started doing fartlek training, I ran at Willowbrook High School because they had a hill.

Did you have any athletic heroes?

My running idol was Kim Merritt from the University of Parkside in Wisconsin. Her husband trained her. She was this beautiful blonde that was very mysterious. She would show up at the starting line, always at the very last minute. Then, she proceeded to literally kick everyone’s butt. She ran and won the 1975 New York City Marathon and in 1976 won both the Boston Marathon and Honolulu Marathon.

Nowadays, what’s your favorite way to get moving?

My favorite way to get moving nowadays is a Fitbit that says “GET MOVING”. I don’t run anymore, but I walk at least 10,500 steps every day. I am trying to build my self up to walk at least 5 miles a day at a fast pace. My Fitbit measures my heart rate, which I like to keep in the 69 resting BPM range. I also monitor my blood pressure daily and like to keep that in the 113/66 range. Everything can be monitored so much better now, it’s amazing.

Who’s your favorite child?

My other idol is a little girl who was actually the worst athlete I ever saw. I bribed her middle school gym teacher that I would give him $100,000 if he could make her a runner. She always had the best attitude and never gave up no matter how bad she was. She would finish her track meet dead last – ALWAYS! But, she never gave up. Today that young girl has developed into a great athlete that can smoke just about anyone in a race, and her work ethic is second to none. She is beautiful, smart, witty and I am so proud to say she is my daughter, Hannah.

Aw, jeez, mom. You’re making me blush.

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