As hard as it may be for today’s young people to comprehend, there was a time not too long ago — less than 50 years — that people actually believed women were not capable of running long distances, that it could harm their ability to bear children, among other things.
Running a marathon, therefore, was out of the question.
Still, there were girls and women who loved to run and who knew better. Bobbi Gibb was one.
Back in 1966, she snuck into the Boston Marathon and began tearing down that barrier against women.
The true story of how Gibb completed the marathon, finishing 124th ahead of 291 men, is told in a new children’s picture book released earlier this year, “Girl Running, Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon,” by Annette Pimentel.
An inspiration to all runners, but especially girls and women, “Girl Running” will be the featured book for the 13th annual Run to Read 5K being held next month, and Pimentel will be the guest speaker.
“As soon as we read ‘Girl Running’, we knew this was the perfect book for Run to Read,” said Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for The Missourian, who organizes the run along with the Four Rivers Family YMCA.
“The past few years we’ve had more and more involvement from Girls on the Run clubs, and Bobbi Gibb’s story is so inspiring, especially for female runners,” she said.
Kitchell said the book also is a Missourian Book Buzz Pick for September, so copies will be donated and delivered to all school libraries on Monday.
Pimentel, whose husband is a runner, said she had never heard of Gibb before her husband suggested she write her next children’s book about another female runner, Kathrine Switzer, who was the first female to complete the Boston Marathon wearing a number.
“She had entered with just her first initial, so (organizers) thought she was a man,” Pimentel said.
When organizers realized Switzer was a woman, they tried to remove her from the race.
“There are photos that are really striking of this angry man trying to push this woman off the course,” said Pimentel. “I was intrigued and started researching her, and she talked about how inspired she had been by Bobbi Gibb . . . so I started reading about her too. I found her autobiography, and she just had such a love of running just for the pure joy of running, and I just loved her story so much, that I thought (Gibb) is the one I should write about.”
Pimentel researched Gibb’s story both by reading her autobiography and by interviewing her. She also, however, dug into the news reports of the day, “to get a sense of how she was viewed at the time,” and watched a series of YouTube videos called “Where the Spirit Leads,” that Gibb created.
“It is super important to me that all the details be accurate and that I’m reflecting reality,” said Pimentel.
All of her sources are listed in a bibliography at the end of the book.
‘This Book Needs to Be Sleek and Fast, Like Bobbi’
When Pimentel began writing Gibb’s story, there was a lot of information and a lot of side stories that she wanted to include, and at first, she did.
Her first drafts of “Girl Running” were 2,000 and 3,000 words — far too many for a picture book.
By comparison, the final version is about 700 words.
One of the side stories that Pimentel had originally included in the book was about how Gibb was joined on her training runs, not just by her own dog, but many of the neighborhood dogs too.
“One day she was running in early spring with all these dogs along a busy road, and one of the dogs stepped into the road,” said Pimentel. “(Gibb) saw that the dog was going to be hit by a car so she grabbed it and pulled it to safety. The dog was fine, but she fell and ended up spraining her ankle or something, and because it was right before the marathon, it actually delayed her another year.”
However, when Pimentel shared her manuscript with one of her critique partners, she was told to cut that detail and many others out.
“She suggested just cutting and cutting and cutting,” said Pimentel. “And at first, I was horrified, but she told me something that became my mantra. She said, ‘This book needs to be sleek and fast, like Bobbi.’ And that was such a great insight. So I was just really ruthless and took out everything that wasn’t absolutely centered on her running the marathon.”
And although Pimentel was sad to have to cut some aspects of Gibb’s larger story from the text, she was pleased to see a few of them show up in the illustrations by Micha Archer. Others, Pimentel gladly shares with students and audiences when she gives presentations, like the one she’ll give here for Run to Read.
For people wanting to learn more about Gibb’s story, Pimentel has included a short afterword at the end of the book with even more details.
Pimentel did a lot of research before writing her text for “Girl Running,” and illustrator Micha Archer did the same.
“She did a ton of research of what things looked like at the time,” said Pimentel. “It was fun to see the book through her eyes, how she took my words and then added this wonderful art layer.”
A collage artist who uses homemade stamps and other methods to create her own papers to build her illustrations, Archer has a video on her website www.michaarcher.com showing her intricate process.
Pimentel said she felt lucky to have Archer selected as the illustrator for “Girl Running.” It was only Archer’s second children’s book to work on, but she won the Ezra Jack Keats Award for her first, “Daniel Finds a Poem.”
Pimentel is not a runner, per se, but she is inspired by movement and finds that it helps get her creative juices flowing.
She works — and works out — a good two to three hours a day at a treadmill desk that she created in her home office with a used treadmill and an IKEA desk.
“I just put my computer on the desk, which is like 4 feet off the ground, and I walk while I work,” said Pimentel. “I love it. I think it’s really great for keeping me focused. I think I do better work on it than off.
“I don’t go very fast, 1 1/2 to 2 miles an hour, so it’s more of a stroll.”
She limits her work at the treadmill desk to research and typing. Everything else she does away from the treadmill.
“But I do a lot of writing on it and also reading, which is a really important part of my working process,” said Pimentel, who lives in Moscow, Idaho, in the northwestern part of the state.
It’s a remote area, about two hours from the nearest freeway, she said. But there are beautiful, rolling fields.
“Most of the lentils grown in the U.S. are grown here,” said Pimentel. “This is not the potato part of the state. We are the lentil part.”
Run to Read
The 2018 Run to Read will be held Saturday, Oct. 13, and will begin and end at Washington Public Library, 410 Lafayette St., in Downtown Washington.
Course options include a 5K (3.1 miles) run and a 1-mile story stroll, which allows walkers to read pages from “Girl Running” before hearing Pimentel speak. Children 5 and under may register for the Baby Buzz Dash — a sprint to the finish for the youngest participants.
Runners will take off at 8 a.m., followed by walkers at 8:05 a.m. The Baby Buzz Dash will begin at 8:45 a.m.
Members of the Washington High School cross country team will man the 5K race route, as they have done for several years; and members of the Washington Middle School Student Council will volunteer for the 1-mile story stroll, holding up enlarged pages of the story for people to read along the route.
Pimentel’s presentation will be held at 9 a.m. in the meeting room at the library, followed by awards to the top runners. Anyone is invited to hear her speak and copies of her book will be available for sale at the event.
There will be awards for overall winners, first-place finishers in each age division and medals to all students who finish the 5K and Baby Buzz Dash.
Bee trophies will be awarded to the overall 5K winners — youth, teen and adult, in both female and male categories.
In commemoration of Gibb’s efforts to give women new opportunities, Kitchell said this year’s event will offer a few more fun additions, including a special award for participation from local Girls on the Run groups and a unique T-shirt design.
As always, everyone who participates in the Run to Read will be given a free book.
Kitchell said Run to Read was organized to share the hundreds of books The Missourian reviews for consideration in its book columns into the hands of area readers. Hardback books for all ages and all genres will fill tables at the library and participants will get their pick after they complete a chosen event.
In gratitude for all that teachers do to promote reading, there is no cost for an educator to register. Additionally, bee trophies are awarded to the first male and female educator across the 5K finish line — and a bee goes home with the school with the greatest participation.
To register for Run to Read, people can go to gwrymca.org or stop by Four Rivers Area Family YMCA, 400 Grand Ave., or Neighborhood Reads bookstore in Washington for registration forms. All participants who register by Saturday, Sept. 29, will receive a free T-shirt.
The cost is $13 to register to participate, with $1 of each registration being donated to the 26.2 Foundation to help fund a statue of Gibb in the town of Hopkinton, Mass., which is where the Boston Marathon starts each year. Gibb, who is a sculptor, will create the statue herself.
There already are many statues of male marathon runners or officials in Hopkinton, said Kitchell, but none of women. Fittingly, this will be the first.