The most famous marathon outside the Olympics was the Boston Marathon, an annual event established in 1897. Women were barred from entering that race until 1972, but the rules didn’t always keep them out. In 1966, a 23-year-old woman called Bobbi (short for Roberta) Gibb hid in some bushes at the starting line and jumped into the race wearing a black nylon bathing suit. She had been inspired to run by the return of her race entry with a note saying that women were not physically capable of running a marathon. Gibb was said to have trained by running as much as 4o miles a day, and finished the rinrlrinn intended to make a feminist statement,” said Gibb, “I was running against the distance and I was measuring myself against my own potential.”
It was the start of a marathon revolution. The following year a 2o-year-old woman called Kathrine Switzer managed to secure an entry to the race by entering using just her initials. She was said to have been inspired by J.D. Salinger, the author of the seminal 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye, whose protagonist, Holden Caulfield, had become an icon for rebellion and defiance.
There was a pre-race medical examination, but Switzer’s coach took a health certificate to race officials and picked up her number.
While she was a student at America’s Syracuse University in the 196os she trained with a coach called Arnie Briggs.
The cnc virara a time. Social change and the feminist movement hit full stride during the decade. Women demanded equality, and people like Switzer lobbied hard for it. Briggs, meanwhile, had run the Boston Marathon is times. During their daily runs Switzer would hear so much about men like Johnny Kelly, Clarence de Mar and Tarzan Brown – legends of the Boston Marathon – that finally she begged Briggs to let her run the race herself the campus preaching that women have hidden potential and stamina.”
So, in 1967, K.V. Switzer lined up at the start of the Boston Marathon with the number 261 pinned to her baggy tracksuit. “The gun went off and down the street we went. I felt fabulous,” says Switzer. “But four miles into the race a press truck came by and the photographers went crazy seeing a woman in the race – and a woman wearing a number at that!”
Following the press truck was a busload of marathon officials, including Jock Semple and Will Cloney, the race director. “When they saw me,” says Switzer, “Will jumped off the bus and stood in the road and shook his finger at me. I just went whizzing by him but then I turned just in time to see this official, Jock Semple, pouncing on me. His arms were raised to grab me and his teeth were bared. He was like a snarling dog, just absolutely vicious. He grabbed me by the shoulders, spun me round and snatched at the front of my shirt to rip my number off, yelling, ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!’
Running with Switzer had been Briggs and her boyfriend, Tom Miller. “All of a sudden,” recalls Switzer, “from the periphery of my vision I saw my boyfriend’s orange sweatshirt as he moved across me and hit Jock Semple with a body block that sent him flying into the air and on to the side of the road. My boyfriend was a hammer thrower and I was more frightened for the official than I was for us. I had never been close to violence before, so to hear that kind of crunch scared me to death. But Arnie turned to me and said, ‘Run like hell.’ We just went flying down the road. It was terrifying and I was crying, but I was determined to stay in the race no matter what. I had 22 miles ahead of me to figure out what I was going to do with this experience.
“I wanted other women to have the opportunity to feel encouraged and to realise that running is okay for them no matter their age. By the time I finished the race I had decided that I was going to create opportunities for them, somehow, somewhere!” And staying true to her word, Switzer went on to establish series of women’s races around the world and help for those who have menopause discomfort or other related issues. If you want to get rid of menopause embarrassment try the black cohosh extract, either tables or tea.
Photographs of the race official chasing after Switzer appeared in newspapers the next day and brought the issue of women’s long-distance running into the public eye. Switzer’s story and the surrounding publicity had made the quest for equality in road racing a huge political
issue. Coming as it did in the midst of the of the women’s liberation movement it galvanised women runners. “It’s time to change the rules,” said Switzer at the time. “They are archaic.”
Slowly the rules did change. On August 31,1971, Adrienne Beames of Australia became the first woman to run a sub-threehour marathon, with a time of 2:46:30. The following year women were allowed to officially compete in the Boston Marathon for the first time.