Kathrine Switzer – Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land

Imagine running in a marathon. 26.2 miles or about 42.2 kilometers. Hard enough, right? Even with adequate preparation, there are still many things that can go awry on the best of days. Imagine that the weather was sleeting, freezing rain. Continue to imagine that this race was the world-famous Boston Marathon, and your very first marathon race. What would you do if early on, one of the race officials started chasing you, tried to rip off your bib, and yelled at you to get out of the race? If you’re Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967, you ignore the guy, keep running the course, and go on to successfully finish the race.

In 1967, no woman had ever “officially” (registered with a bib number) run in the Boston Marathon. It is noteworthy that one year prior the race was run by Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb. In 1966, Gibb literally had to hide behind trees and bushes by the starting line, and then sneak in line with the men as they started the race in order to run. However, Gibb did not try to register for the race. Bobbi also unofficially ran in ‘67 while Switzer was running, too, but Switzer gets more press since her entry into the race was official. And, because of the infamous photographs captured of race official Jock Semple trying to grab Kathrine’s bib number off of her torso and physically remove her from the race near mile 4. She was running with her coach, Arnie Briggs, and her boyfriend at the time, Tom Miller. The men began running on either side of her to try and shield her from Jock, and eventually Tom body-checked the official to the ground so Kathrine could keep running and finish her race! If you’re interested in learning more about it or reading Kathrine’s story, her memoir Marathon Woman holds all of these details.

Kathrine Switzer, of Syracuse, N.Y., becomes the first woman to ‘officially’ run the Boston Marathon. Behind her, her then-boyfriend Tom Miller and coach Arnie Briggs push race official Jock Semple away. (Paul Connell/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

After Kathrine’s expectation-defying race, she continued to work for equality for women in running. At that time, women’s official running races were all less than 2 miles, due to concerns about the physical stamina and strength of females – women were considered too delicate to run longer races. After creating a buzz in Boston, she used her newfound platform to work for the inclusion of the Women’s Marathon in the Olympics, and was ultimately successful. The Women’s Marathon was included in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She spent many years after 1967 organizing running races for females, and worked in countless ways to promote female athleticism throughout her career.

This story is key for a whole bunch of reasons. Most importantly, it showcases the physical and mental strength of female athletes, and encourages people to persevere in the face of adversity. Even today, many female athletes are fighting for pay equality and inclusion on a large and small scale. Her story is an inspiration to us all, whether you consider yourself a runner or the farthest thing from it. The lesson: If someone tells you that something can’t be done, that it’s impossible, that you shouldn’t even try, that you could never do whatever it is – run your damn race anyway, and prove them wrong.

Written by Kim Daniels (she/her) from Rhode Island, USA. Follow her on Instagram! This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.

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