A few weeks ago, the call went out. In effect, Avon Products, long a leader in the promotion of women's athletics, was saying, "OK, ladies, up and at 'em."
"We were hoping that maybe 40 women would show up for a series of running [and walking] clinics both in Baltimore and Columbia," said Kathy Switzer, driving force behind the company's involvement the past two decades. She paused, then gasped, "We got 300 both places."
It was like the good old days when, after Switzer had toppled the gender barrier by competing in the Boston Marathon of 1967 surreptitiously, the world discovered women and girls wouldn't dissolve if they put their heart, lungs and muscles to work and started perspiring.
Clinics and workouts covering all aspects of running for women of all ages, fitness levels and interest are being conducted from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays through June 18 at the Poly-Western track, 1400 Cold Spring Lane, and the Howard High track, Route 108, in Ellicott City. It all leads to the big Avon 10K race and 5K fitness walk at the Inner Harbor at 8 a.m. June 27.
"The beauty of working with the women in a program like this is they attack it with such fervor," Switzer said. "You tell them to be somewhere at such-and-such a time, and they'll be there. Many are so happy to receive coaching and instruction because they've never had the experience before."
Baltimore was one of the first areas Switzer thought of when Avon resumed its Global Women's Circuit program.
"I had run a few races here over the years, like the old Lady Equitable, and was always impressed with the response and interest here," she said.
Baltimore is the sixth stop on an 11-race series that culminates with the Avon National 10K Championship in Chicago on Nov. 8. It is one of five cities where clinics precede the race; subjects include stretching and injury prevention, nutrition and weight loss and resistance and strength training.
After running in Boston and winning the New York City Marathon in 1974 and achieving a No. 6 world ranking, Switzer put her degrees in public communications to work to defeat the "women can't compete" syndrome.
"Avon was big in women's tennis in the 1970s but wasn't into running," she said. "I wrote them a prospectus for a program, and they answered, 'We're not interested right now, but we'd like you to come to work for us.' " The foot was in the door.
It wasn't long before Avon sponsored a race in Atlanta in 1978 and, later, a women's marathon in London was not only the forerunner of the London Marathon but eventually led to the women's marathon being included in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Pub Date: 5/30/98