The Boston Marathon is coming up on Monday and Runner’s World’s coverage of the race has this very interesting article about the history of women runners in the Boston race.
I never knew running was once considered solely a man’s sport and women weren’t allowed to run the Boston Marathon. Not until Kathrine Switzer came along, that is.
In 1967, Switzer register for the race using only her first initial instead of her first name so no one would know her gender. She showed up for the race wearing her issued bib number and started running, becoming the first registered female runner to run the Boston marathon. According to the article, there was another woman who ran the race the year before Switzer, but she did a bandit run (ran without registering).
Switzer was four miles into the race when she was spotted — first by the press, then race organizers. What happened next would be unbelievable if it weren’t for the pictures that captured the whole thing.
Here’s an exerpt of the story as told be Switzer herself, from her own website
Four miles into the race, the media flatbed truck loaded with photographers came through and we all had to get out of the way to let it pass. A bus followed the truck with the journalists and on that bus were co-race directors Will Cloney and Jock Semple. The photographers saw me first and started shouting, ‘There’s a girl in the race,’ and then slowed up in front of us and started taking pictures. By now, I’d thrown away my top sweatshirt and my hair was flying. I didn’t try to disguise my gender at all. Heck, I was so proud of myself I was wearing lipstick! When the journalists saw me, they started teasing Jock that a girl had infiltrated his race. They looked up my number and saw K. Switzer and started heckling Jock some more. ‘She doesn’t look like a Karl,’ they’d say. Their bus was still behind us. I was unaware what was going on behind me as we were waving at the photographers in front of us.
Jock was well known for his violent temper. He seethed for awhile, and then he erupted. He jumped off the bus and went after me. I saw him just before he pounced, and let me tell you, I was scared to death. He was out of control. I jumped away from him as he grabbed for me, but he caught me by the shoulder and spun me around, and screamed, ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me that race number.’ I tried to get away from him but he had me by the shirt. It was like being in a bad dream. Arnie tried to wrestle Jock away from me but was having a hard time himself and then Tom, my 235-pound boyfriend came to the rescue and smacked Jock with a cross body block and Jock went flying through the air. At first, I thought we had killed him. I was stunned and didn’t know what to do, but then Arnie just looked at me and said, ‘Run like hell,’ and I did as the photographers snapped away and the scribes recorded the event for posterity.
The rest is history. My infamous run at the 1967 Boston Marathon is recorded as unofficial and does not post a time, although it was around 4:20:00. Despite that the BAA wanted nothing to do with me, the fact that I ran with a number made headlines around the world. The New York Times reported the story but inadvertently said I didn’t finish. I was furious and personally called the reporter to correct his mistake, saying just because you filed your story while I was still out running didn’t mean I didn’t finish! It was this incident as much as any other that made me determined to become a better runner, to prove I could also be a real athlete, as I certainly never was a quitter and even with all the dreadful stuff at Boston I would have finished that race on my hands and knees to prove that a woman could do it.
The story doesn’t end there. Over the next five years, she and a group of other female runners lobbied for the inclusion of women in the Boston Marathon. They were officially allowed to enter in 1972. But the thing I love most about Switzer was that she set out not just to prove women should be included, but that they were also a force to be reckoned with. In 1974 Switzer won the New York Marathon. But here’s the really incredibly thing: her unofficial time in Boston in 1967 was around 4:20:00. She ran New York in less than three hours. Her personal best was 2:51:37. Girlfriend had something to prove and I think she proved it!
Switzer will be joined by her fellow 1972 female Boston Marathoners on Monday as the official race starters. It’ll be the 45th anniversary of her defiant run and the 40th anniversary of women being allowed to run as registered participants.
I’ll never be as fast a runner as Switzer and will likely never qualify to run Boston. But knowing what she did for female runners will be more motivation for me to do my best every time I cross a start line wearing a bib number. It’s the least I can do to honor such a legend.