14 Mar 2017

Marathon woman returns to Boston

From Nine To Noon, 9:43 am on 14 March 2017

Having revolutionised running for women during the Boston Marathon in 1967, Kathrine Switzer is preparing to run the same route again, at 70-years-old.

While competing in the race 50 years ago, Switzer was attacked by an official who did not believe women should have been able to participate.

Despite the best - or worst - efforts of the outraged official, Switzer completed the race and in doing so broke the mould of the until-then male dominated sport.

Katherine Switzer

Katherine Switzer was the woman who, in 1967, challenged the all-male tradition of the Boston marathon and became the first woman to officially enter and run the event. Photo: Supplied

Switzer told Kathryn Ryan this time around she will be running with 125 others; 118 of them women.

“All of them have had their lives changed by running and in many ways of that particular incident, of the official jumping off the press truck, attacking me and trying to throw me out of the race.

“It was such an iconic moment and the photo of the incident became one of the iconic photos of the women’s rights movement all these years later.”

Switzer says she tried to embrace the incident and turn it into a positive.

“There’s always that split second of fear and embarrassment where you want to walk off the course but actually what I decided to do it, somehow, at age 20, made the decision to finish the race, no matter what.”

Switzer then began a crusade to create other opportunities for women in running and began organising in club races.

“Then got major sponsorship, organised the Avon global circuit which went around the world, 27 countries, 400 races, 1 million women participating had their own sense of empowerment.”

She was also part of convincing the international Olympic committee to get the women’s marathon in the Olympic Games.

Switzer says she couldn’t have imagined in her lifetime how popular running would become for women all around the world.

“We’ve gone from that incident to having more women runners than men in the United States – 58 percent… actually higher in Canada. I’m seeing it also in France and Japan.

Kathrine Switzer at Scorching Bay

Kathrine Switzer at Scorching Bay Photo: Hagen Hopkins

“And it’s spreading, distance running is becoming kind of a ‘women’s sport’, and it calls into question or significance that women are actually very good at running distance. Women are very good at endurance stamina, balance and flexibility and maybe this opens up a whole new world in the future of what women’s sports is going to be all about.”

The most recent event Switzer ran in was in Berlin five years ago.

“There’s a big difference between 65 and 70 (years old), trust me on this.

She says the biggest difference is in how much longer running takes her these days.

“As you age, the more time you’re on your legs the harder it is, so it’s diabolical.”

Her latest venture, 261 Fearless Inc., began after Swtizer received numerous photos and messages of runners displaying ‘261’ – her bib number during her first Boston Marathon - on them while running.

“Everybody has been told in their life that they’re not welcome or they’re not good enough, or not pretty enough or smart enough, fast enough or whatever. And then they go and do something like running and they do it anyway and they overcome that and they become fearless.

“They kept using that word, fearless.”

The main aim of 261 Fearless is to connect women around the world who are fearless, with those who may be living in fear.

“The negative part of this story, which we hope to change into a positive, is that most of the women in the world live in a fearful situation.

“It could be the woman next door or it could be the woman in Saudi. You know, it doesn’t matter. If you reach, she knows she’s not alone out there and the vehicle of running is easy cheap and accessible, even if you run virtually.”

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