Instead of telling you about my running this week, since it’s been what I’d call uneventful since it’s taper time, I’ll tell you what’s been on my mind. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week in lieu of running a lot of miles. A lot of race-day visualization, self-motivation, and reflection on all that I’ve done to train for this. Just thinking about it when I’m in a certain focused mood can give me the chills. I got to thinking about the story of Kathrine Switzer that I had read about once or twice before, who really changed the history of running for all women, and how my story wouldn’t be possible without hers. Here is her story… but first, starting way, way back:
The first Olympic marathon was held in 1896 and it was open to men only. Women weren’t to be counted out entirely, however. A woman named Melpomene snuck onto the marathon route and finished an hour and a half behind the winner, but beat plenty of men who ran slower or dropped out. Women snuck onto marathon courses from that point forward.
Now fast forward to the year 1976 (when it was apparently widely accepted medical advice that running could make your uterus fall out). It is the Boston Marathon, which isn’t just any race… it is the world’s oldest annual marathon and had always been a men’s only race. A headstrong 20-year-old junior at Syracuse University named Kathrine Switzer entered the marathon under the name of K.V. Switzer and was given a number. Kathrine recounts in an article she wrote (which I’ve reduced and added a few notes to below):
“The day of the race was horrible. Sleeting, snowing, windy and cold…As I pinned on my number, the other runners around me noticed I was a woman and got very excited and supportive. They thought it was great that a woman was going to run Boston. We all lined up to go through the starting pen…More people were noticing I was female and congratulated me, all very supportive and excited for me. Arnie [Kathrine’s coach], my boyfriend Tom, John Leonard from our cross country team, and I were in a little group… The race starts and off we go.
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!…
Jock [Semple] was well known for his violent temper…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…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.”
It wasn’t until 1972 – 5 years later – that the Boston Marathon was officially opened to women, and Kathrine Switzer was a huge part of making this happen. Since then, so much as been accomplished for women in running.
Sometimes it helps (and takes my mind off my upcoming race) to think about the big picture. Not just how I got to this place, but how women got to this place, and it hasn’t been an easy road. I can’t even imagine being Kathrine where on top of all of my training I am also going against the rules, social norms, and literally fighting (or having your boyfriend do it for you) to stay in a race where you wouldn’t be given an official time anyways. Today, female participation in marathons has been steadily increasing, and I’m so excited to soon be part of that growing statistic! So thank you Kathrine Switzer for setting the precedent and making this marathon training comparatively “easy” compared to what you had to go through. 🙂
P.S. Kathrine is truly dynamic to listen to, so if you want to, watch this short video of her describing her experience in Boston, I enjoyed it a lot.
P.P.S. It’s looking like it’ll be beautiful weather on race day! 5 more days!