Val Rogosheske | 50th Anniversary Women in the Boston Marathon
Until about April 1, 1972, Val Rogosheske’s plan was to go full Roberta Gibb—hide in the bushes until the gunshot went off and jump in with the men running the Boston Marathon. It was a legitimate plan, since women could not officially enter. And to tell the truth, Val was looking forward to it. Hiding in the bushes and banditizing the race had a hint of adventure, a bit of rebellion about it.
About two weeks before race day, the Boston Athletic Association reversed course and officially opened the race to women. Eight registered. Rogosheske, 25, who was running his first marathon, was wearing the F7 bib. And didn’t jump out of the bushes.
“I’m a little ashamed to say, when we were officially welcomed I was a little disappointed. I was so focused on being this woman hiding in the bushes and running around,” Rogosheske said. Runner’s world. “But you know, Nina Kusick, Kathrine Switzer and Sara Mae Berman worked for years to make this happen. I just showed up and took advantage.
Although she did not fully realize the historical nature of her race at the time, she gained an appreciation for presenting herself as a form of activism, as a way to effect change.
Rogosheske still spawns and keeps running. Of the eight in 1972, she is the only one to run this year and will be joined by her two daughters and a cousin. “I love the ‘cycle of life’ aspect,” she recently said from her Minneapolis home. “I was 25 when we raced with eight that first year. Came back when I was 50 to mark the 25th anniversary, although I had to drop out halfway through. And now I’m 75, and this time I intend to finish!
Val talked about that 1972 Boston Marathon and what she will think about when she joins 14,000 women running this year.
In 1969, when I was at St. Cloud State College, a friend asked me how fast I could run a mile, so I got on the track and was so surprised and embarrassed – I couldn’t finish one mile. That’s what started. I bought a copy of this book, Joggingby Bill Bowerman.
The training was time-based, starting with a gentle run for 10 minutes and gradually increasing the amount of time you could keep running. There weren’t really any other women doing it; I just did it myself.
For the first race, I wore [Onitsuka] Tiger shoes – there were only about three brands then – and they were very thin. But for training, maybe I just wore tennis shoes. It was summer so I was wearing shorts or something. When I met [my husband] Phil in 1970, he gave me my first real T-shirt.
I didn’t know any races. It sounds so strange, but the whole idea of women competing and racing was foreign to me. I never thought of that. I was a bit of a tomboy and there were a lot of boys in the neighborhood. I was going to their little league games, but it never even occurred to me that I should play too. I’m almost embarrassed to say that, like I should have been an activist little girl, but I wasn’t.
I was telling Phil that I liked that jog, but I still had trouble getting out sometimes. He thought I needed a race to practice. It was 1971. The Boston Marathon was the only race I had heard of. I had heard of women hiding in the bushes and running – I knew we weren’t allowed to run – and that appealed to me. Maybe my activism came to life at that time.
I got the mono and spent the whole month of January  in bed, so there was only February and March left to train.
Phil helped me with the training. Basically, every week I was running a little longer and shorter runs in between. I remember I repeated a few half miles to add speed to the mix.
I found out that we can register maybe two weeks, three weeks maximum in advance. I can’t remember if I posted anything or if there was a number to call, but I got a call from a BAA man. Apparently there was a qualifying time and the other women had all run under 3:30 before. I had to admit that I had never run a marathon before, but I told him about my training and the fact that I had run up to 16 miles, and he gave me permission to come in, which he did good.
They had grouped all eight of us on the starting line. It was very cool. There were about 1,200 runners that year, which seemed like a lot of runners to me. Maybe it was left unsaid [between the eight women], but we all had this thought that we couldn’t stop and we couldn’t even walk. We were only there on the line maybe ten minutes, and after the shot, I never saw a woman again.
I had trouble with chafing, sometimes even bermudas would ride up, so I had these long nylon orienteering pants from Sweden – Phil picked them up somewhere. It was a hot day, and I was there in long nylon pants. And this bob! I thought I needed protection from the sun, and there weren’t many choices back then.
I think there were a few water stops on the course, but I mostly remember drinking from people’s pipes and trying not to get my feet wet. I ate orange slices that the children were handing out.
The response from male runners has been completely positive. They were the ones who knew what a beautiful effect doing something like that could have on your life.
I wanted to make sure I was done so I was careful not to exit too quickly. I have two great memories of this race. One was Wellesley College – they were all lined up and so excited to see the women. They were shouting, “Straight on, sista!” It was exciting for me to get that kind of support. The second was Heartbreak Hill. I was already way beyond what I had run before and I knew I couldn’t walk, but everyone around me was walking. It was so hard not to. Phil showed up there – it was easier to check in with people back then – and I almost started crying but told him I was going to be done.
My time was 4:29. My goal was just to finish. It’s kind of crazy how that finish line has changed. The spectators were really close; my husband was there on arrival.
I was always a tomboy, but I never thought of myself as an athlete, and I think after that I did.
Right when I was done, I thought, I’m really going to practice and come back and do this again. So I practiced and convinced two of my friends to do it too. In 1973, there were 15 women entered, so 20% of the women’s field was from St. Cloud, Minnesota.
I had never participated in anything before and I found that I liked it. I wasn’t in competition with other women – I never even saw other women. I was competing against myself. I was well trained in 1974 [for Boston] and ran the entire second half of the race with this guy, Mel Opstad. We both got our PR, 3:09, and found out we lived 30 miles from each other in Minnesota. I am still in contact with Mel.
When I spoke to the BAA about taking part in this year’s race, they said the time limit was six hours, and can I do it? My old brain said, “Oh sure,” but I started timing myself. You would think you could walk six hours, but let me tell you, you can’t.
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I’m amazed by the progress [women’s sports has] made. I was a physical education student and there were no organized sports in high school or college, but my daughter got a soccer scholarship. So there’s been all this progress, and you wouldn’t think it would go away, but it reminds me of the early 1900s when women’s basketball was all over Minnesota. But around 1930, there was a shift in public opinion about what was acceptable or healthy for women, and those opportunities disappeared – until the 1970s. Even in the early days of running, they continued to thinking your uterus was going to deform or something. So you can’t take these things for granted.
This year, I’m really looking forward to going to Wellesley College. Fifty years ago there were eight of us, and this year I think there are 14,000 women. It’s a bit mind-blowing.
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