Fifty years ago, Kathrine Switzer completed the Boston Marathon as the controversial, only female, contestant fighting her way to the finish line. Now, aged 70, she returns to the starting line for the 9th time, with a total of 40 marathons now under her belt, including 1st place in the New York race.
Ms Switzer’s memorable moments in 1967 consists of race director, Jock Semple, trying to rip off her bib number 261 and eliminate her from the race, which was captured on camera. The next day’s New York Times’ captioned the photo: “The end of an era.”
Since that notable race, Switzer has started The 261 Fearless Team (named after her bib number). It was set up as a way to support other women in breaking the stigma of running, as well as to connect women through sports, and pave the way for a more inclusive environment in the running community. Progress in female marathon running can be seen by the 12,300 female runners following in her footsteps (literally) at 2017’s Boston Marathon. Among the team were five runners representing the Reebok apparel brand, including first-time marathoner Lauren Hendersen.
Canadian runner, Hendersen, talked about Switzer as her inspiration for participating in the marathon and how supporting ‘how far women have come in sports and running’ motivated her to join the team.
The 261 Fearless Team members from all over the globe congregated for the first time prior to the Boston marathon and gathered in unity on the start line.
The Boston Athletic Association has now retired Switzer’s 261 bib in honour of her historic contribution to women’s sports and as a commemoration of women’s achievements in sport. The B.A.A. President, Joann Flaminio, commented on Switzer and the 50th anniversary, “We are so pleased to welcome back Kathrine to the race which elevated and hastened the movement in women’s sports.”
This year the first UK event in partnership with Switzer’s 261 Fearless Team will be held. The ‘Woman Can’ Marathon, inspired by Switzer’s story, was co-founded by Jo Earlam, Pauline Beare, and Peg Wiseman. Earlam is a race administrator from Tipton St John, Devon. As Switzer’s 50th anniversary coincides with the 50th anniversary of Tipton’s community playing field, she wished to create an event inclusive to all women. Earlam says, “What Kathrine Switzer has achieved for women’s endurance running is truly remarkable. As a keen marathon runner, I thought what better way of celebrating her legacy than further empowering more women to run a marathon. We’re thrilled to be joining forces with 261 Fearless, and honoured to have Kathrine’s personal backing for this unique and special event.”
The ‘Women Can’ marathon takes place on Sunday 28th May 2017 on the community playing field in Tipton St John, open to walkers and runners alike. Check out the event page to sign up.
There are currently three 261 Fearles clubs in the UK. To learn more about the team, listen to more empowering stories, connect to like-minded female runners, and donate to the cause – see here.
Read an interview with Kathrine Switzer as she gives a deeper insight into her life.
LUCA is also getting involved in promoting women’s participation in running through joining up with the This Girl Can movement. Check out our report on the last LUCA This Girl Can run here and we hope we’ve inspired to get involved!