Friday, January 29, 2010

Runner Girls - Fast, strong, sexy, and .... alone

After seeing my post-marathon status updates on Facebook, three women I know informed me that their husbands had run the half-marathon too. My unspoken question to all three was, "Why? Why your husband and not you? What stopped you from running too?"

I do know all three couples, and, in each case, the husband is the more athletically inclined of the two. But, despite two kids apiece, all three women women are fit and healthy. All of them work out a couple of days a week, and can, if they set their minds to it, prepare for a half-marathon. And yet, all three of them were happy talking about their husbands participating - they did not seek to participate themselves. Which is a pity, because in a lot of ways, running is the ideal sport for Indian women.

As a nation, we do not encourage children to take up sports, and we actively discourage our girls from taking up any sport. Since she hasn't played since she was a child, even if she wants to, it would be difficult for a woman over the age of 20 to take up any organised sport. But running is the great equaliser- human beings are genetically programmed to run, and a woman taking up running at the age of 36 is in exactly the same situation as is a man of the same age taking up the sport. Men and women of similar levels of fitness and stamina return comparable timings, and the percentage of woman successfully completing a long distance race is no different from the percentage of men doing the same.

Why then do more women not run? Yesterday, I met one of those women who's husband ran the half-marathon, and asked her why she did not take part herself.
"I can't", she replied before elaborating. "Just don't have the stamina."
"Neither did I when I started out", I assured her. "But it is something that can be built up."
"Maybe", she shrugged. "But I just don't have the time."

This answer I couldn't buy. If with a full-time job their husbands could find time to practice, why not the wives, none of whom was working? I do not deny that keeping house and bringing up kids is also full-time job, but surely it is not impossible to take a couple of hours off for running every week?

When it really comes to it, it is not so much a case of not being able to run, as much as it is a case of not wanting to do so. And I can only feel sorry for women who do not want to make time for it.

Running, to me, is almost like meditation. It is the one time when I transcend all the roles I play - mother, wife, colleague, daughter, friend - and am just myself. It is the one time when I can let the mind wander free. The time when I can think what I want, or not think at all. Apart from all the physical benefits, running puts you in touch with yourself, and that is something all women should cherish. I just wish the fraternity of Runner Girls could grow.

[The photograph is of me running last Sunday's marathon. And yes, the percentage of women to men was was disproportionate as it appears in the photograph.]
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Leanne said...

Ooooooooooh, I hear you. Yet take a look at the ultra-runners, the women sometimes manage to even BEAT the men. :-) Speed, maybe not, but stamina? We got it.

Of course, this is coming from someone who hasn't run a decent race for two years, but hey... off to the gym I go tomorrow to start building up again!

Anonymous said...

I used to love running - like meditation with a high! But my knee and heels were completely shot and I had to give it up due to the intense pain.

These days I find long walks in the woods with the dog just as soothing.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Leanne - so true. I have a 44 year old male colleague who went on and on and on about the half marathon, and ultimately returned a time of 2 hours 36 minutes. When I informed him that my best time was 2 minutes less than his (unfair comparison, because the climate was much more equitable that year), he tried to tell me he was older, and therefore slower. When I told him about a female friend two years older than him who turned in a time of 2 hours 21 minutes on the same day, that shut him up for a couple of minutes.
Women are born to run as much as men are. And you better make sure you don't miss the registration the way you did two years back.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Fiona - we must have cross posted. Long walks with a dog and a camera are MUCH better than runs! Either way, it is ME time, and every woman deserves as much.

Al said...

Surely it is not simply a matter of "not wanting to". Maybe that is the reason but I think all cultures place women in additional "straight-jackets".
My youngest daughter's "sport" is chess. Girls and particularly women are woefully under-represented. Unfortunately it seems to stem from nothing but the expectation that girls shouldn't participate in a "male" sport.

Publish or Perish

dipali said...

The knees are not up to running any more. But my morning walks are still my own personal time, and the walkers' high sustains me through many crises.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Al - I am surprised to hear an Australian say that. I thought you were a country that asked not "what do you do", but "which sports do you play?". And yes, women are unrepresented in sports which have nothing to do with strength and speed too. Pity.

@ dipali - run or walk. That time is something every woman should learn to treasure.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

It all comes down to choices and priorities. Putting their wants first occasionally is a difficult task for many women. Good for you! I applaud you from this soon -to-host-the-Olympics city.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Elspeth - you have hit the nail on the head - most women seem conditioned to put their needs last, and then to fill their days up with things they only think they want. Why can't more women realise that it makes more sense to think of themselves sometimes, rather than to keep cribbing about the sacrifices they are forced to make.

And yes, waiting for the Olympics in your hometown - it is so hot here, I can't even think of snow anywhere on the same planet.


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