The Silence of Great Distance
Women Running Long
By Frank Murphy
Replica Books, 2000; 471 pages
I enjoyed this book, which tells two distinct but related stories.
The first is the history of women's distance running, mostly from about the 1960s forward, with special emphases on Doris Brown and Mary Decker, and several Eastern bloc athletes in the 1970s.
Second, the book traces the career of Stephanie Herbst, a Minnesota high school state champ who became a track and cross-country All-American at the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1980s. Herbst ran with or against Kathy Ormsby (the N.C. State star who was paralyzed after jumping from a bridge), Suzy Favor, Regina Jacobs, Joan Benoit, and other top collegians of that time.
The book works well, largely because Stephanie Herbst competed during a pivotal, dynamic decade for female athletes. With the passage of Title IX in the 1970s, women's collegiate athletics evolved from the AIAW philosophy oriented toward participation and personal development, to the NCAA model of very competitive, high pressure sports. would have said this was sort of an obvious "good thing" in terms of equality and fairness for women. However, it was interesting to read about how these changes actually played out, both positively and negatively, in the lives and experiences of individual female athletes.
There is a little spiritual/philosophical/literary flavor, overdone for my taste, that seems to infect a lot of writing about running - but on balance, I'd recommend this book. By the way, Frank Murphy has also written a biography of marathoner Buddy Edelen; I've just ordered a copy.
Mike Dooris, November 2001