On a dark six-mile run in a wild snowstorm in mid-December 1966, I had a terrible argument with my otherwise kindly old coach, Arnie Briggs. It was in Syracuse, New York, where God first invented snow and never let up. I was a 19-year-old journalism student at Syracuse University, and since there was no women’s running team there or anywhere else for that matter, I began training unofficially with the men’s cross-country team. That’s where I met 50-year-old Arnie, who had trained for years with the team. Arnie was actually the university mailman and a veteran of 15 Boston Marathons. He was excited to see a woman—the first—come out to run, and took slowpoke me under his training wing. To cajole me through tough evening sessions like this, Arnie told and retold stories of famous Bostons. I loved listening to them—until this night when I snapped and said, “Oh, let’s quit talking about the Boston Marathon and run the damn thing!”
“No woman can run the Boston Marathon,” Arnie fired back.
“Why not? I’m running 10 miles a night!”
Arnie insisted the distance was too long for fragile women to run and exploded when I said that Roberta Gibb had jumped into the race and finished it the previous April.
“No dame ever ran the Boston Marathon!” he shouted, as skidding motorists nearly killed us. Then he added, “If any woman could do it, you could, but you would have to prove it to me. If you ran the distance in practice, I’d be the first to take you to Boston.” I grinned through the gloom and flakes. Hot damn, I thought, I have a coach, a training partner, a plan, and a goal: the biggest race in the world—Boston.
Three weeks before the marathon, Arnie and I ran our 26-mile trial. As we came down our home stretch, it felt too easy, so I suggested that we run another five-mile loop just to feel extra confident about Boston. Arnie agreed, reluctantly. Toward the end of our 31-mile run, he began turning grey. When we finished, I hugged him ecstatically—and he passed out cold. The next day Arnie came to my dorm and insisted that I sign up for the race.