Every year around this time, I put a small update on Facebook about the first female runner of the Boston Marathon. I wanted to give you a brief history of her story in hopes that you pass it on to another woman to inspire her to begin her own journey as she turns the word “CAN’T” into “CAN”.
In 2014, it is a commonplace thing for a woman to run a marathon. You probably know at least 2-3 women who have run one, or at least you know of a few. In 2013, 42% of the marathoning field was made up of women, with the greatest age percentage to be within the ages of 25-44. The median finishing time is 4:42:58. (Source) Running is a booming trend continually on the rise- runners(especially the gals!) are literally everywhere.
Back in 1967…women weren’t considered for entry into marathons. Their bodies were thought as too delicate and bones too fragile for an event as extreme as running 26.2 miles…. or even running in general..
Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Since women didn’t yet have their own running teams, she began training with the boys cross country teams. She loved listening to her coach Arnie Briggs, talk about the Boston Marathon. Arnie had run 15 Boston marathons…so I’m sure there were quite a few stories to be shared. Finally, Kathrine had enough and declared it was time that she run the legendary course herself. After convincing her coach, she continued to train, even running a 31 mile training run!!
Only 3 weeks before the race-Kathrine officially registered. Sidenote:I registered for Boston back in August. She had checked the rule book-there was nothing in it regarding gender-so it didn’t mean that she couldn’t register. She handed in the application, signing her name “K.V. Switzer” and gave the $3.00 (can you IMAGINE??? I spent $350. Wth!!) entry fee, and she was on her way!
The night before the marathon, she, her coach, her boyfriend, and one more friend drove to a hotel room in Natick. The marathon was on a Wednesday that year (a Wednesday!) and it didn’t even start until noon. Sidenote: I’m jealous of this because I bet KV could walk to the start at 11:30 am and not have to sit and wait 6 hours til her start time (that is me this year)
Kathrine called her parents to tell them the news from her hotel room. She was nervous….her excited coach had taken them for a drive along the course route, and she had started to feel doom and gloom that accompanies a distance as long as 26.2 miles, and she began to think she couldn’t do it. A phone call home was needed:
I called my parents in Virginia when I got back to my room. I had to explain first what a marathon was, and then why I was in Boston, ending with, “It is important for me to finish the race.” My dad was acutely aware when it came to any anxiety on my part; I never reached out with a lack of confidence unless it was serious. And he delivered perfectly. “Aw hell, kid, you can do it. You’re tough, you’ve trained, you’ll do great!”
It was just what I needed to hear. My dad knew I didn’t jump into things untrained; although this marathon thing was a surprise, he had no doubt. What I couldn’t explain to him, what nobody knows unless they’ve done one, is that the marathon is unpredictable, anything weird could happen, and anything could happen to me! I could get diarrhea. I could get hit by a dolt opening his car door—Arnie told me about that happening once. Eventually, I got too tired to worry about things I could not control. The thing I worried about most was courage. Would I have the courage to keep running if it re¬ally hurt, if it got harder than I was used to, if Heartbreak Hill broke me? I was worried about maybe not having the courage if it got awful. (Source)
All marathoners think these thoughts. I don’t think you’re a real athlete if you don’t suddenly start to doubt your training, fear the worst, and start to question just WHY you are doing this
insane thing in the first place.
But back to KV… When the race started, she was feeling welcomed. As the only woman, men were excited to see her, asking her for tips on getting their wives to run. Smiles all around! The gun fired and race began!! She was off!!!!
The first few miles were easy peasy. (As any marathoner knows, the first three are wonderful…So easy!) It wasn’t until mile 4 where she began to run into problems:
Moments later, I heard the scraping noise of leather shoes coming up fast behind me, an alien and alarming sound amid the muted thump thumping of rubber-soled running shoes. When a runner hears that kind of noise, it’s usually danger—like hearing a dog’s paws on the pavement. Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I’d ever seen. A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” Then he swiped down my front, trying to rip off my bib number, just as I leapt backward from him. He missed the numbers, but I was so surprised and frightened that I slightly wet my pants and turned to run. But now the man had the back of my shirt and was swiping at the bib num¬ber on my back. I was making little cries of aa-uh, aa-uh, not thinking at all, just trying to get away, when I saw tiny brave Arnie bat at him and try to push him away, shouting, “Leave her alone, Jock. I’ve trained her, she’s okay, leave her alone!”
After this… she encountered what many runners do:
The urge to quit.
But Kathrine didn’t. She kept going..not even knowing when she had passed Heartbreak Hill and cursing her coach for not telling her it coming…and before she knew what was happening, she was in Boston with 26.2 miles in her rear view mirror.
I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capabil- ity to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston.
For her full story, you can go here.
Kathrine Switzer is a trailblazer. What she did started a powerful revolution of an uprising of women everywhere. Why shouldn’t they be allowed into the marathon?? I can’t put what she did into words any better than this chart can:
So today, as I prep for my 8th Boston Marathon..I would like to say a big fat THANK YOU To Kathrine Switzer!! Without her bold entry into the marathon, women wouldn’t be where we are today..
I wondered why other women didn’t run, thinking that they just didn’t get it. Wait a minute, maybe they believed all those old myths like running ruins your reproductive organs, and it scared them away because they didn’t know better and nobody gave them opportunities to disprove this nonsense. My folks and Arnie had given me this chance, and it dawned on me that I was not special after all; just lucky. My thinking rolled on: The reason there are no intercollegiate sports for women at big universities, no scholarships, prize money, or any races longer than 800 meters is because women don’t have the op- portunities to prove they want those things. If they could just take part, they’d feel the power and accomplishment and the situation would change. After what happened today, I felt responsible to create those opportunities. I felt elated, like I’d made a great discovery. In fact, I had. (Source)
Around this time of year, I find my thoughts drifting off in a state of thankfulness… I know women have had the whole equal rights thing down for quite some time now, but, I feel blessed that someone believed 100% in a woman’s ability. She Never Gave Up on her fellow female runners. Thank you, Kathrine, for knowing instinctively that women had the absolute god given right to run. Thank you for trusting your training. But most of all, I’d like to thank you for believing in yourself.
Now, in 2014, female elite runners start the race first…
And, as Kathrine says: