Trailblazer Kathrine Switzer makes her London Marathon debut, age 71

Yesterday’s marathon was the hottest on record since the London race started in 1981, 71-year-old runner, trailblazer and pioneer Kathrine Switzer was completely undeterred; she was the official starter for the Elite Women’s and World Para Athletics races yesterday, she then went on to compete in the 26.2 miles with 40,000 other runners in the capital’s 42nd race.

Switzer proclaimed how delighted she was to finally be taking part in the London marathon, especially in the 100th year since women got the vote.

If you’re not a running buff chances are you might not know much about Kathrine Switzer. In 1967, Kathrine made history, becoming the first woman to run the Boston marathon as a registered entrant.

As unbelievable as it may seem, just 51 years ago, women weren’t expected to run the marathon, it was traditionally a male-only event, with very few women taking part unofficially, unregistered. The marathon was considered a masculine race, with women’s races capped at 1500m. 

Switzer registered for the Boston marathon, as advised by her coach and her initials KV Switzer were passed; ‘I was just a kid who wanted to run’.

A 20-year-old Kathrine ran that day with her boyfriend, American football star Tom Miller. Four miles into the race, a race official Jock Semple spotted Kathrine and ran after her, yelling ‘get the hell out of my race, give me those numbers!’ trying to grapple the numbers from Kathrine’s sweater.

17-stone Tom attempted to stop Semple attacking his girlfriend a second time and Semple was thrown to the floor. The ruckus, which also included an onlooker shouting at Switzer ‘you should be back in the kitchen making dinner for your husband’ was documented by the press and both the event, the pictures, and Kathrine made history.

 

‘I didn’t care how much it hurt or how long it was going to take or if I got put in jail or even if I died. I was going to finish no matter what…’

 

Switzer went on to finish that race in 4 hours and 20 minutes, an hour more than unregistered female runner Bobbi Gibb however, Switzer was disqualified from the race and expelled from the athletics federation because she had not only run with men, but also run more than a mile and a half and also because she had ‘fraudulently’ entered the race, which in fact, was not true. There was no information on the entry form stating that women couldn’t enter. The only real issue was that in 1967, it was socially unacceptable for a woman to participate.

The shocking debacle caused an uproar. Kathrine went on to become an activist for female runners and fought for 4-years until women could officially compete in the Boston marathon.

Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston marathon

Kathrine has run over 39 marathons over 53 years, winning the New York City Marathon in 1974. Her best recorded time is 2.51.

The last time Switzer ran in London was in an all women’s marathon in 1980. Sponsored by Avon, it was this race that brought gender equality to the fore.

 

‘That race got the women’s marathon into the Olympic games. That was a huge battle for women’s equality. To me, it was the physical equivalent of the right to vote. That was about intellectual, social acceptance; this was the physical acceptance. That was amazing.’ 

Kathrine Switzer

 

Last year the Boston marathon resigned the bib number 261 from the race as a sign of respect for Switzer, half a century after she made history.

Yesterday Kathrine, wearing her infamous numbers – 261 – finished the race in 4.44, alongside 22,000 other female racers.

Kathrine runs a social network for female runners called 261 Fearless: ‘Be Fearless. Be Free. Be Grateful. Run with 261’

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