Joan Ullyot, Debunker of Limits on Women Who Run, Dies at 80
When Joan Ullyot, physician and accomplished runner, published her book “Women’s Running” in 1976, she adopted an intimidating set of traditional ideas that boiled down to a warning: women shouldn’t run long distances.
They weren’t physiologically built for it, the women were told. Compared to men, they generally had higher body fat, less muscle mass, and lighter bone structure, factors that should discourage them from engaging in long-distance running – at least we do. believed. Additionally, many authorities on the ground have warned that prolonged running could harm women’s reproductive organs.
But Dr Ullyot (pronounced UH-lee-yet) methodically debunked these claims in her book, one of the first to examine sport from a female perspective, and one of the first books on the subject written by an author.
“You just have no idea how many myths and superstitions surrounded the vigorous activity of women at the time,” said marathoner Katherine Switzer, “so we needed it a lot.”
For Dr Ullyot, “the purpose of the book was to tell women what they could do while running, not what they couldn’t do,” she said in the book “First Ladies of Running” (2016), written by marathon runner Amby Burfoot.
Dr Ullyot, who was 80 when she died of cardiac arrest on June 19 in Palo Alto, Calif., Was herself an accomplished marathoner. Games. (With a few exceptions, the Olympics had a long history of banning any type of long-distance running for women until 1960.)
As a member of the International Running Committee, an advocacy group formed in 1979 to lobby for the inclusion of women’s long distance races in international competitions, Dr Ullyot used her research in the presentations the group made. to the IOC during the race. until the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
In making their case, the group encountered a history of open hostility towards female competitors in marathon races. Ms. Switzer competed in the 1967 Boston Marathon as KV Switzer to impersonate a man. When race officials got wind of a participant, they attempted, unsuccessfully, to physically remove her from the course. She was the first woman to complete the race as an official participant.
In 1977, the IOC refused to add a 3,000-meter race for women to the 1980 Games in Moscow, although a New York Times article that year cited Dr. Ullyot’s research as showing that the women “may be physiologically able to keep running. and run – and run.
The IOC eventually gave in and the 3,000-meter race and women’s marathon were added to the 1984 Games, in large part thanks to the efforts of Dr Ullyot’s group.
Joan Benoit, an American, won the first gold medal in the 1984 marathon, with a time of 2:24:52. The Times’ coverage of the race was titled “Female Athletes Break the Myth of Sport”.
Joan Wingate Lamb was born on July 1, 1940 in Chicago to Theodore and Deborah (Bent) Lamb. Her father was an architect, her mother a housewife. Joan, her parents, and a sister lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and moved to California when Joan was in high school.
She was not an athlete when she was a child; as she told Gary Cohen, a running blogger, in a 2017 interview, “The girls didn’t run. I don’t know why, but they just didn’t.
Dr Ullyot attended Westridge School, a private girls’ school in Pasadena, California, then went east to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where in 1961 he received a degree in German literature. She attended Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1966.
After marrying Dr Daniel Ullyot, a heart surgeon, in 1965 and moving to San Francisco four years later, Dr Ullyot began running to lose weight. She immediately adopted it and competed in her first big race, the 12-kilometer Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, in 1971, the first year the event was open to women.
Dr. Ullyot has run over 75 marathons and numerous other races while working as a medical researcher in cell pathology at facilities like the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
She was a single mother of two sons for much of her life: her marriage ended in divorce in 1976.
Her son Theodore Ullyot recalled that she asked that he and his brother, John, run three miles to college with her a few days a week, backpacks and all.
“It was extremely embarrassing for a teenage couple,” Mr. Ullyot said. However, both sons also started running.
Dr Ullyot, one of six runners from the United States, competed in the first international women’s marathon, in Waldniel, Germany, in 1974. Having learned German at university, she served as an interpreter at the ‘team.
During the event, she met Ernst van Aaken, a German doctor who was one of the early supporters of the women’s race. He pioneered the ‘slow long distance’ training method, which emphasizes running long distances at a slow speed, rather than the shorter, more intense interval training that was the norm. at the time. The two became friends and collaborators.
Together, they have developed training programs, for both men and women, to maximize endurance and minimize bodily injury. (She told Mr Cohen, the current blogger, that Dr van Aaken, who died in 1984, introduced her to one of her favorite things to do outside of running – drinking wine.)
Dr. Ullyot was a fixture in the starting blocks of the Boston Marathon, competing in nine of the races and winning the Masters division for runners over 40 in 1984.
In 1990, she married Charles E. Becker, also a doctor. The couple moved to Snowmass, Colorado, and Dr. Ullyot coached a running club in Aspen.
In addition to her son Theodore, she is survived by her husband; his son John, who confirmed his death; his sister, Deborah McCurdy; two stepchildren; and six step-grandchildren.
In addition to “Women’s Running”, Dr Ullyot’s books include “Running Free: A Book for Women Runners and their Friends” (1980). She also wrote a column for Runner’s World magazine.
Dr Ullyot ran his last marathon, the Boston, at age 56. But she never lost her competitive spirit. When her son Theodore ran a marathon in two hours and 50 minutes, breaking Dr. Ullyot’s personal best, she decided to surpass it. After an intense workout, she beat her time by a full two minutes.
Mr. Ullyot remembered his mother saying, “You boys, you can have all the records in this family within one marathon, but you don’t take the marathon record away from me.
“I’ve had a motto since I was 40,” Dr Ullyot told The Times in 1989, when she was 48. “Age, experience and cunning can overcome youth and ability.”
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