The First Woman To Run The Boston Marathon Is Running It Again 50 Years Later
This time race organizers are honoring her instead of trying to throw her out
Image via Kathrine Switzer/Twitter
When Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, two miles in, the director tried to physically remove the 20-year-old, grabbing her and yelling, “Get out of my race!” This year Switzer returns to run the 26.2 miles, but the organizers will be honoring her instead of trying to throw her out.
Back in 1967, women weren’t allowed to run the Boston Marathon. Experts believed miles of pounding the pavement would make their uteruses fall out. (That’s not a joke, people believed that.) When women ran just 800 meters at the 1928 Olympics, doctors implored them to never let that happen again, so it wasn’t until 1960 that female competitors could run a race over 200 meters at the Olympic Games. Major marathons, like Boston, didn’t view women any differently, barring them altogether.
Switzer was able to enter Boston in 1967 because organizers thought she was a man. On her application she used her initials K.V. Switzer, and thus organizers issued her a bib. Everything was going fine for Switzer early in the race, starting among 740 men without incident. But a couple miles in, when the media bus passed the pack to follow the leaders, a member of the press spotted Switzer and said to race director Jock Semple, “Hey, Jock, you’ve got a broad on your hands today.”
Semple, incensed, ran after Switzer and tried to rip off her bib number and pull her out of the race. But before he could get a firm hold Switzer’s boyfriend, Tom Miller, ran over and shoulder checked him away from her.
“You know, we laugh about it now because it's so funny when a girl is saved by her burly boyfriend,” Switzer recently told NPR. “I said to my coach immediately after the incident, ‘I have to finish this race now because if I drop out of this race, nobody's going to believe that women are serious.’” And so she persevered and finished.
The photo of Semple trying to grab Switzer became an iconic symbol of women fighting for their rightful place in sports. By 1972, Boston officially changed its policy to allow women to enter the race, and in 1984 the Olympics, finally added the women’s marathon. Switzer continued to race, winning the 1974 New York Marathon and taking second in Boston two years later.
Today, at 70 years old, Switzer is running with the same bib number she wore 50 years ago, No. 261, and when she crosses the finish line, the Boston Marathon will retire it in recognition of her contribution to women’s sports.