In the early modern Olympics games there were no foot races for women. In 19281 they added races up to 800m, but when the event actually happened, it was a hot day and several athletes “collapsed in exhaustion”. This led to (or reinforced) the belief that women were not capable of running middle to long distances. After that the longest woman’s race at the Olympics was 200m. Not until 1960 was the 800m finally reintroduced (but nothing longer).2
In the first half of the last century, the AAU, was the national group in charge of foot races; the way the USATF is today. In 1950s and 60s it was still felt that women were not able to run long distances and in 1961 the AAU officially banned women from running in road races, or any race longer than a mile and a half.2
Finally in 1972 the AAU relaxed its ban and women were allowed to run even marathons — provided they didn’t try to compete with the men and had a separate start. Which lead to an amusing incident at the 1972 New York marathon: The gun for the women’s start went off 10 minutes before the men’s — but the women (all 6 official entrants) sat down and did not move until the men’s gun went, then they raced with the men.3 And the AAU gave up on enforcing separate starts.
Title IX also passed in 1972. It was an important year.
So how did this affect Santa Barbara? Well, there aren’t many data, as I haven’t found many races from that long ago. John Brennand (race director then and still running now) tells me in the 60s there were only 4 post-collegiate races a year: Semana Nautica 15K, the national One Hour run championship, the SB marathon and a cross-country race out at UCSB. Until recently I only had Semana Nautica and a scattering of other results from that period.
Now in Semana Nautica the first female runner appeared in 1971 — a year before the AAU relaxed its ban. So, I guessed, that by then it was clear that change was coming at the national level and SB just moved a little early. I asked John if there was any great decision in the club to allow women to race and he answered “No, the women took things into their own hands.”
And then John found more results for the marathon. The first woman finisher in the marathon was in 1966. The comments section of the race results reads:
An unofficial starter, Lyn Carman, 29 was not expected to withstand the travail involved in negotiating over twenty-six miles in this hilly course, but to the astonishment of every male competitor, Lyn finished strongly breaking 4 hours. The wife of the 12th place finisher, Bob Carman, Lyn trains with her husband once a day running from 30 to 60 miles weekly, with 1 to 2 days on the road, and the remainder on track or grass. A mother of four children, with her youngest being 13 months old, she shyly accepted the acclaim, bereft of an appropriate award for such a feat. Splits: 42:32 at 5 miles, 1:45:39 at 11 miles and 3:57:50.9 at the finish.
Another young lady, Mrs. Roberta Gibb Bingay, completed the Boston Marathon, 4-19-66 to place 124th in the unofficial time of around 3:21:25. Such precedents inevitably will remove the barrier that discourages official competition for women in distances over 1½ miles.
Judging by his surprise it looks as though people really did believe that running long distances would be almost impossible for women.
As far as I know this was the first time a (post-collegiate) woman raced in SB.
In the 1969 and 1970 marathons there were two women runners each year, and in 1971 there were 5.4 In ’66, ’69 and ’70 the women are said to have run “unofficially”. I asked John if that meant they ran without bibs. “No,” he replied, “they had bibs, we just had to hide them from the AAU.” In 1966 Lyn does not appear in the results themselves, only the comments, but in 1969 she and the other woman do appear in the results as “L. Carmen” and “I. Gorman” respectively, while in 1970 she has her full name. I guess Santa Barbara was a bit calmer than Boston when it came to women runners,5 none of the drama of a race official trying to tear the bib off a runner.
And no separate start for women either.
But this still leaves me confused, as there were again “official” woman runners in 1971, before the AAU lifted its ban. When I asked John about it he told me that no one really objected to women running by then, and the main argument of the day was how first world “amateur” runners could complete with second world state-supported runners at the Olympics. I’m not sure I entirely believe that, but perhaps that was the case on the west coast.
In the 60s and 70s most races were team races. The first women claiming to be on a team are in the 1971 marathon where two of the five women are on teams. One of those teams is SB City College, the other is the Rialto Road Runners. Neither of these was part of the AAU club system (remember in ’71 the AAU had not lifted its ban on women road racers yet). The road runner clubs were a national organization that put on “non-competitive” fun runs. Because they were “non-competitive” women were allowed to run in them.6 The first woman racing for the SBAA team was in the 1972 AAU National One Hour Run, so once the ban was lifted they must have been allowed into the club.
I have fewer results for the One Hour run (a pooled event held at many tracks all over the country. One of those tracks was in SB, and usually the one with the biggest field). In 1968 and 1970 there were no obvious women’s names in the results, and only one runner with just initials. In 1972 there were some women (12 out of 440 or 2.7%). I don’t have the results for 1971, but I suspect — since this was the AAU national championship race — I suspect that even in SB women were not entered in the results (officially).
Finally the percentage of women racing in any race for which I have data (this includes the National One Hour Runs which drew from all over the country 68~81, and a few races in Lompoc).
So currently in SB slightly more than 50% of our runners are women. Last year almost 70% of the runners in the half marathon were women, while only 50% in the marathon were (and the half has always drawn a greater percentage women than the full — except when there was no half). As early as 1982 exactly half (108 of 216) of the finishers of the Resolution 5K were women, but only a quarter of the 10K finishers were.
From 1978 to 1992 there was a woman’s only 10K race (from 1988 until 1992 there was an attached woman’s only 5K). The race was quite popular in the early 80s but declined dramatically; towards the end the race director felt that the race was not attracting enough runners, so in 1992 they experimented with adding men’s only races (WO 5K, MO 5K, WO 10K, MO 10K), and in 1993 the races both became mixed sex. Then in 2012 we had the “She is Beautiful” 5 & 10K which again used the woman’s only format.