First Female Boston Marathon Runner Kathrine Switzer On Going The Distance

“Life is for participating, not for spectating.” ― Kathrine Switzer

An infamous photo on the wrong side of history captures a woman being attacked for attempting to run the 1967 Boston Marathon. Even though she finished the race, women were not permitted to take part officially in the event until 1972. The runner, author, sports commentator, and woman’s non-profit running club founder went on to win the 1974 New York City Marathon, and developed a friendship with the Boston official who tried to tear off her race number bib, Jock Semple. Fifty years later the woman in the picture Katherine Switzer at age 70 ran the Boston Marathon again.

Switzer said of running and Semple, “When I forgave Jock Semple on Heartbreak Hill, I also got really cross with women. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t get it, why they didn’t know that running was so cool and why they weren’t in the race as well. Then I thought to myself “How stupid can you be? You’ve had so much encouragement and motivation and these women haven’t.”

Switzer is a role model and advocate for women in sports. After years of successfully lobbying woman’s marathon running became an Olympic sport in 1984. Switzer once commented, “When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders—women fall into my arms crying. They’re weeping for joy because running has changed their lives. They feel they can do anything.”

In an interview with CNN Switzer was proud of her work in popularizing women’s involvement in the sport, “What happened on the streets of Boston 50 years ago completely changed my life and changed other people’s lives. Running is a social revolution now. Women are not just doing it to get into races or to lose a couple of pounds, they’re doing it for fun, for their self-esteem. It’s transformative.”

Missouri resident Chau Smith took up running at the age of 48, and completed a 5K in 1995. Since then she’s run almost 70 marathons in countries around the world. At age 70 she participated in the Marathon Adventures Triple 7 Quest, where she finished 7 marathons in 7 days, running in Australia, Singapore, Cairo, Egypt, the Netherlands, New York City, Chile, and King George Island, Antarctica. Smith told the Huffington Post, “It was never my intention to become a long distance runner, but the more I ran, the better I felt … no matter how stressful my life has been or is running is the best therapy I’ve ever had.”

In his memoir What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, literary sensation Haruki Murakami penned, “I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.” He writes of his relationship with the sport, “For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”

Running is a sport that requires minimal equipment, all you need is a place to run, indoors or outside, and a pair of comfortable, and supportive shoes. It tests both physical and mental endurance. With training on nutrition, proper form, foot placement, and stretching to prevent injury runners practice a set of skills that with time and consistent running schedules increase stamina and help improve overall physical fitness. The runner’s efforts pay off in measurable achievements, from jogging around the block, to running a 5K to completing a marathon, a big ticket item to check off of the modern bucket list.

As Kathrine Switzer says, “All you need is the courage to believe in yourself and put one foot in front of the other.”

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Author: Tara Collum

Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun