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Val Rogosheske started running because of a simple question from a friend: “How fast can you run a mile?”
Being a physical education major, she assumed it wouldn’t be a problem — after all, she was in school learning about physical education, and running a mile is a staple of physical education.
But that turned out not to be the case.
“I was just about to graduate and a friend asked me how fast I could run a mile. I thought, ‘Well, that’s an interesting question. I’ve never run a mile. Or I’ve never timed myself,’” Rogosheske said. “So I went to a track to get a time, and I was not able to finish a whole mile running. I was so embarrassed.”
Fast forward a few years, and suddenly the Minnesota native was one of the first eight women to run the Boston Marathon as an official participant.
“It was so exciting. They put all eight of us on the start line, off to the side. And so that was the first time I met the other seven women,” Rogosheske said in an interview with Boston.com. “It was so exciting just to be together there and knowing that this was a big deal to be there for the first time legally.”
That historic race took place 50 years ago, in 1972. It was the first time the marathon had officially let women compete.
Rogosheske’s path to running the Boston Marathon wasn’t what one might expect.
Though she now thinks her inability to finish a mile while in college was more of a pacing problem than a physical fitness problem, the embarrassment she felt pushed her to start running.
“I got that book by Bill Bowerman called ‘Jogging.’ Read that and just started going out — I don’t know if it was every day, maybe several times a week — and just started jogging,” Rogosheske said.
In about a year, Rogosheske went from barely running a mile to competing in the Boston Marathon. Her husband-to-be at the time, a lifelong athlete and coach, helped her get over the hurdles that come with starting a new sport.
“I was once in a while having a little bit of trouble getting out the door to do my jogging, and [my husband] said, ‘What you need is a goal,’” Rogosheske said.
At that time, they were living in Alexandria, Virginia, because he was finishing up a stint in the army.
“We were out [in Virginia], and I thought, ‘Well, that’s a good idea.’ But the only race I had heard of was the Boston Marathon, but I had read about women hiding in the bushes and then jumping out and running it, and I thought, ‘This sounds like a good thing to do,’” Rogosheske said. “That’s when I started doing more and more miles and getting ready actually for a marathon.”
In 1966 Bobbi Gibb made history as the first woman to unofficially run the Boston Marathon. At the time, she was told women were “not physiologically able to run a marathon,” and wasn’t allowed to officially run the race. She took matters into her own hands, hid in a forsythia bush near the start, and joined the crowd after half the men had started running.
Six years later, the Boston Marathon officially welcomed women to compete in the race — the first year had a field of eight women, including Rogosheske.
With her goal of running the Boston Marathon in mind, Rogosheske’s husband hooked her up with some reading material and advice from friends who had marathon experience. Then she was, quite literally, off to the races. Rogosheske finished sixth in her category in her first marathon, with a time of 4:29:32.
“In 1972, I was not very well ready,” Rogosheske said. “We had just gotten married in December, and then I got mono and was in bed for the whole month of January. So that left only February March to train for the marathon. I finished it feeling like you know I could do better.”
Rogosheske came back in 1973 and 1974, eager to improve on her original time — a feat made easier by not having mono before the other two races. Her personal best came in 1974 with a time of 3:09:38.
Though at the time she realized it was exciting to be one of the original eight female runners, Rogosheske said after the starting line she never saw them again, so it didn’t stand out as much.
“I think the most exciting part then was passing Wellesley College … And the women came out there yelling, ‘Right on, sister,’ it just felt so good,” Rogosheske said.
Wellesley College has been a highlight for Rogosheske at several marathons. When she came back for the 25th anniversary in 1997, she was dealing with some knee problems, so she didn’t run the entire race but made sure she made it about halfway through, when the course passed through Wellesley.
“When I came back 25 years later, I made sure I did not drop out before Wellesley, “Rogosheske said. “So then when I went to Wellesley, they all looked like my daughters instead of my sisters, and now this year, I’m kind of looking forward to just going by there again, and looking at them and feeling like ‘Wow, they can all be my granddaughters.’”
Though she couldn’t finish the race for the 25th anniversary, she was really there for the experience. The same is true now — she’s still looking forward to the experience and festivities — but this year, she also plans to finish the race.
“I’m just excited to be back in that atmosphere,” Rogosheske said. “Just to compare, I mean, 50 years ago, there were 1,200 total runners, I believe. And that seemed like a huge number. … And now, this year, I believe there’s going to be over 30,000, 14,000 of which will be women. So what a change in 50 years to go from eight to 14,000.”
Rogosheske, who is 75 years old, is running this year’s Boston Marathon as a part of the honorary women’s team. She will be running along with seven other women who have made powerful impacts in everything from athletics to human rights, according to the B.A.A.
“I’m just so honored to be on this team because these other women have just done so much in so many ways for women, in very practical, really heartfelt ways,” Rogosheske said.
She will also be running alongside both her daughters and her cousin.
“The four of us women are going to be trooping down the road together. And it makes it so special because I’m thinking of 50 years ago how few opportunities there were for women. And now how it’s grown so exponentially and so now, this next generation will be there with me celebrating that growth,” Rogosheske said.
Most people running the marathon will be significantly younger than Rogosheske, but she has a plan to help her get through the 26.2-mile course.
Rogosheske will be using a system developed by 1972 Olympian Jeff Galloway called the “run walk run” method. She will alternate between running and walking in 30-second increments throughout the entire race. She said she has been training with this method for about six months of the year and a half of preparation she has done for the 126th Boston Marathon.
“It is so much easier on your joints, and it feels psychologically better because when I’m running for that 30 seconds, I feel like my old self — I’m going fast, hard, I’ve got the old rhythm, I’ve got the old fluidity, and then I recover for 30 seconds,” Rogosheske said. “If I just ran, I’d be going so slow, I’d feel clunky, and it wouldn’t even feel good.”
In her training, she’s done as much as 21 miles with this system, and said she’s felt pretty good afterward.
Rogosheske and the other women on the honorary team are getting the VIP treatment this weekend. There are a number of events commemorating the 50th anniversary, including media events and a panel at Copley Square.
“Something else that I’m looking forward to is the Boston Athletic Association asked me to fire the gun to start elite women,” Rogosheske said. “The other great thing about that is the elite women start early and … then they’re rolling the four of us — me and the girls — to start right after them. So I’m starting about two hours earlier than I thought we could. So that’s really helping me relax and enjoy the day and not think I have to make it to the finish line really fast.”
About 50 years after she first took to the starting line of the Boston Marathon, Rogosheske will cross that momentous line again, this time with her girls and another 14,000 women by her side.
“I’ve really been seriously getting ready for this, but I won’t be racing in the traditional sense,” Rogosheske said. “I’m just going to be trying to finish with lots of enjoyment.”
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