Please help me welcome today’s friend, Annette Bay Pimentel and her brand new book Girl Running (Nancy Paulsen Books), illustrated by Micha Archer, which was just published on Tuesday! Annette lives and writes in Moscow, Idaho. She is the author of Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service, which won the Carter G. Woodson Award from the National Council of Social Studies.
When I was a college student in the early 1980s, I lived with my grandmother. One morning when I came home from an early morning run, she met me at the door. “Be careful!” she warned. “Running’s not good for women.”
Gram wasn’t alone in her belief! For decades, doctors warned pregnant women against running and sports organizations wouldn’t allow women to run races longer than one and a half miles. Today, of course, those beliefs have been thoroughly debunked, and women run in 5K, 10K, marathon, and ultra-marathon races. But it’s a recent cultural shift.
I love thinking and writing about those inflection moments—when something tips the world in a new direction—and I wanted to write a book highlighting how the world has changed to allow girls and women to run and play sports. I researched Kathleen Switzer, who in 1967 was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official race number. I expected her to be the subject of my book, but in my research I discovered that she had been inspired by another woman, one I’d never heard of, who had run Boston the year before without a race number: Bobbi Gibb.
When I read Gibb’s autobiography, I knew I had found the subject for my book. Even as a young girl, Gibb loved running and would run in the woods simply for the joy of it. As a teenager, she watched the Boston Marathon and immediately responded to the passion of the marathoners. She felt like she had found her tribe, so she started training on her own to join them.
She maintained an intense training regimen until she was sure she was ready to run a marathon, but when she applied for a race number, she was summarily rejected simply because she was a woman. After calming down (by running for hours!), she decided she would sneak into the race and run it anyway. Because she wanted to. Because she was capable of it. And because she needed to show the world what women were capable of doing.
One of the challenges of writing this book was paring down Gibb’s experiences to fit within a picture book. But it was easy to know what should be at the center of that book: the deep joy she felt in running.
For a series of videos to promote the book, I interviewed elementary and middle school girls about why they like to run. Some of the girls run because it’s good training for soccer. A few run because they have older sisters who run. Lots of them run because their friends run. One runs because it calms her down when her younger siblings annoy her. But over and over, I heard girls repeat that, mostly, they run because it’s fun.
They run for the simple, exhilarating joy of running.
Just like Bobbi Gibb.