In 1967 Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. The first woman to unofficially run the race was Roberta Gibb in 1966. Roberta was not registered and hid in the bushes until the race began.
Kathrine and her coach checked the rule book and there was nothing there forbidding women from entering, so she entered. She warmed up with the other [all male] competitors and started the race without incident. It wasn’t until a bus full of officials followed by a bus full of journalists drove past her that the furore errupted when the media started taking photos of her. A male official leapt of the bus and grabbed hold of her, shouting at her to ‘get out of my race’. Her boyfriend, also running the marathon, tackled him to the ground.
[Her coach] Arnie’s eyes got huge. He said: “Run like hell,” and down the street we went.
I was crying, I was so terrified that my boyfriend had hit this official. I was embarrassed and really, really scared. I realised at that moment that everything had changed. Suddenly it became a contest of proving that women could do it. The official was trying to throw me out of the race simply because I was a woman. He didn’t believe I was serious or that I was entitled to be there. He had shamed me so much in front of the whole world. And then that turned to anger and I was so determined that nothing was going to stop me. I thought: “I deserve to be here. If I can do the distance then why not? It’s a public road.”
I grew up during the race. I started the Boston Marathon as a young girl, and came out the other end a grown woman. About 20 miles (32km) into the race, I came to the conclusion that when I finished, I was going to try to be a better athlete and try to create opportunities for women so they would experience the same sense of power, strength and freedom that I had. When I crossed the finish line, it wasn’t like “Wow! I did it – I did my first marathon”. It was like “Wow! I’ve got a life plan!”
This was the first of 35 marathons for Kathrine, she won the New York Marathon in 1974 and campaigned to have the Women’s Marathon added to the Olympics – it was added in 1984.
Can you imagine what it would be like if someone like Kathrine hadn’t come along and insisted on a woman’s right to run. Something so simple as run?