“A woman baked cookies. She didn’t run marathons.”

No piece of modern health advice for both men and women is complete without the admonition to stay physically active. Experts now recommend 30 to 60 minutes of daily physical activity for optimal health. Images of women in exercise gear are everywhere, and entire clothing lines and stores are dedicated to women’s exercise fashion.

A look at women’s history shows that this is a fairly recent development.

When Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb requested a spot to run in the 1966 Boston Marathon, her application was denied with a terse letter. “Women aren’t allowed, and furthermore are not physiologically able,” the director of the race informed her.

Gibb ended up running the race as an unregistered entrant and finished the marathon in a time of 3:21:40. A historic picture shows her running in a swimsuit and shorts. She wore boys running shoes because no commercial women’s running gear was available.

Gibb 1966 Boston Marathon Getty Images
Getty Images: Roberta Gibb in the 1966 Boston Marathon

“People don’t really understand it now,” Gibb said in an interview in 2016. “It was so unbelievable that a woman could run the Boston marathon. A woman baked cookies. She didn’t run marathons.”

Following the introduction of Title IX in 1972, a larger portion of athletic budgets on college campuses was spent on female sports. The policy change would eventually lead to a 600% increase in the number of women playing college sports.

With spring just around the corner, many more runners are hitting the streets for their spring training. As women of all ages put on sports gear tailored for our bodies, special exercise bras, and properly fitting shoes, we have a lot to be thankful for. Not just for our health and strength, but also for those who took down barriers and dared to be different.

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