Jogging has come a long way, baby, and women have been a big part of what is now the world’s foremost fitness standard.

In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe used to jog through the alleys in Beverly Hills. She no doubt caused a few traffic accidents along the way from ogling onlookers, but more than that, she was a pioneer, doing “an activity (like weight lifting) not commonly undertaken by women in 1950,” wrote Donald Spoto, author of “Marilyn Monroe: The Biography.”

“Young boys would see me running and ask, ‘Who’s chasing you?'” Marilyn quipped.

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Jogging was a not regular pastime for women, or anyone, really, in the 1950s. Sure, humans have been running since Day One — from wooly mammoths, from lava and ash, from the Romans, and the Huns, and on and on. But running for pleasure? Jogging? That’s  a relatively recent development in human evolution, one that went from wacky fad to a healthy activity enjoyed by millions.

Marilyn-Monroe-running
Marilyn Monroe running near her home in 1953. (Source: thisismarilyn.com)

In a weird twist, Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, exactly when the word “jogging” was born, as a noun and an activity. The word first appears in a New Zealand Herald article in 1962 to describe a clique of athletes and physical fitness enthusiasts who ran once a week.

The activity crossed hemispheres that same year when University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman tried this jogging thing with Arthur Leslie Lydiard, the man credited with making running popular. Bowerman was impressed by the cross-country fitness of New Zealanders who were running for fun, health and the endorphin rush.

Bowerman returned to the United States and wrote the book “Jogging” in ’62, cementing the word in the American lexicon and popularizing jogging as a fun, healthy and social form of exercise.

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In 1964, Bowerman teamed up with Phil Knight to sell running shoes under the name Blue Ribbon Sports. That evolved into Nike, which would become a billion-dollar company as  “jogging” evolved from curiosity to craze.

Through the 1960s, jogging was still seen as weird — cops would regularly stop joggers and question them (“Where you going so fast, mister?”). Then jogging hit its stride in the 1970s, as athletes such as Steve Prefontaine and Joan Benoit stimulated interest in running for pleasure and health.

Jogging was still seen as weird in the 1960s — cops would regularly stop joggers and question them. Then jogging hit its stride in the 1970s.

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The craze was big business. Joggers needed shoes, sure, but soon there was a entire line of special lightweight, no friction clothing advertised as essential, even for the casual runner. Nike registered its famed swoosh logo in 1974 and came out with their first “brand ad” in 1976, using the slogan, “There is no finish line.”

The jogging boom in the 1970s was further fueled by Frank Shorter’s gold medal in the 1972 Olympic marathon and the publication of Jim Fixx’s “The Complete Book of Running” in 1977. The New York City and Seattle marathons began in 1970, and women were accepted at the Boston Marathon in 1972.

Michael Levin, a writer and editor, bought his first pair of New Balance running shoes in 1977.

Frank Shorter of Rancho de Taos, N.H. crosses the finish line at Munich Olympic Stadium in 1972.
Frank Shorter crosses the finish line at Munich Olympic Stadium in 1972.

“Some college friends got me into running,” he said. “Back then, runners were so scarce we would wave to each other on the street, like truckers passing on an interstate.

“I went for a run through Salzburg, Austria, in the summer of 1978. People looked at me like I was insane, or maybe (like) I’d just robbed a bank,” he said.

Levin remembers that Jim Fixx’s 1984 death from a heart attack threw a brief panic into the running community, but didn’t persuade anyone to quit — least of all, him. Levin, 57, still runs the Boston and New York City marathons.

In the ’80s and ’90s, new trends like aerobics, rollerblading and cycling had their day in the sun. Yet Nike sales topped $1 billion in 1986. In 1988, Nike launched its “Just Do It” slogan. Sales went through the roof.

The second running boom in the 1990s was fueled by, of all people, Oprah Winfrey, writer Edward McClellan claims.

“If Frank Shorter inspired the first running boom, Oprah inspired the second, by running the Marine Corps Marathon,” McClellan wrote in Salon.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

And the second boom was even bigger.

“This was not a spindly 24-year-old Yalie gliding through Old World Munich,” McClellan wrote. “This was a middle-aged woman hauling her flab around the District of Columbia. If Oprah could run a marathon, shame on anyone who couldn’t.”

In 2014, Running USA, a nonprofit organization, released a “State of the Sport” report that claimed there were more than 19 million race finishers in the United States. Some say a Third Running Boom was fueled by women getting into the sport, while others say more and more people were running for the health benefits, both mental and physical.

Oddly, Barack Obama — a thin man with family roots in an African country that produces some of the world’s best runners — did not follow the lead of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush by publicly showing a passion for jogging.

But even without executive leadership, running is still king. In 2015, Nike reported sales of $30.6 billion. Forty-three years after Braverman and Knight threw a couple hundred bucks into the kitty and started selling Japanese running shoes out of the backs of their cars for the small but growing clique of weirdo endorphin junkies who jogged for fun, the sport is running strong. And “there is no finish line.”