First Woman To Officially Enter Boston Marathon Will Run It Again 50 Years Later In 1967, Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon, even though it was a men's-only event. She tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about that race, and training to run it again in 2017, at age 70.
NPR logo

First Woman To Officially Enter Boston Marathon Will Run It Again 50 Years Later

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/524177413/524177414" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
First Woman To Officially Enter Boston Marathon Will Run It Again 50 Years Later

First Woman To Officially Enter Boston Marathon Will Run It Again 50 Years Later

First Woman To Officially Enter Boston Marathon Will Run It Again 50 Years Later

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/524177413/524177414" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon, even though it was a men's-only event. She tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about that race, and training to run it again in 2017, at age 70.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The Boston Marathon is tomorrow, one of the marquee events for distance runners around the world. As with many sports, it used to be a men's-only event until 50 years ago, when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to wear a Boston bib number and race. Now she's prepping to run it again at the age of 70. Kathrine Switzer joins me now from Boston. Welcome.

KATHRINE SWITZER: Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's hard to imagine these days that women would be banned from running in a marathon. Take us back to 1967. What was the thinking behind that?

SWITZER: In 1967, when I pinned on that bib number, I really wasn't trying to prove anything because a woman had actually run the Boston Marathon the year before by just jumping out of the bushes and running. There was nothing about gender in the rulebook in those days because everybody assumed a woman really couldn't run and didn't want to run, and why even bother with it in the rulebook or on the entry form?

And in sports, the longest distance in the Olympic Games, in fact, was just 800 meters. It was feared that anything longer was going to injure women, that they wouldn't be able to have children or they somehow turned into men. That was what was the theory.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really, that they were going to turn into men or that their uterus would be damaged?

SWITZER: Absolutely. You know, it was amazing. You'll never be - ever have children, they said. You're going to get big legs. You're going to grow hair on your chest. It was hilarious, the myths. And, of course, when people hear myths, they believe them because to try otherwise might mean damaging yourself. So people were afraid and they just went about their lives that way and restricted themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But you didn't. You actually entered that 1967 marathon. Tell us a little bit about how you did that and what - and the story behind that.

SWITZER: Well, I entered the race simply because my coach had been a 15-time Boston Marathon runner. And he didn't believe a woman could do it, but he loved running with me and telling me stories about the Boston Marathon. So he energized me. And, you know, when I told him that I really wanted to try and he said he didn't believe a woman could do it, I was bound and determined to prove him wrong.

So we did the - all the right things. We followed all the rules. We signed up using the correct entry form and had our travel permits and our AAU cards. We were parts of the federation. The only thing that challenged it was how I signed my name. I sign my name K.V. Switzer, with my initials. And when the entry form went in, they thought it was from a man.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The race organizers realized there was a woman on the course, of course. How did they find out, and what happened when they did?

SWITZER: At about a mile and a half into the race, the press truck went by us, and they saw that I was a woman in the race wearing numbers and they began taking pictures. And alongside of the photographer's truck came the officials' press truck. And the race director was on the truck and the guys were teasing him. And he got so angry that there was a girl in the race that he stopped the bus and jumped off it and ran after me and attacked me in the race and tried to pull off my bib numbers, screaming at me, get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.

And I was just blindsided by this. I was terrified. I was scared. And my boyfriend came along with a full streak and gave the official a cross-body block and sent him out of the race instead. You know, we laugh about it now because it's so funny when a girl is saved by her burly boyfriend. But, you know, I said to my coach immediately after the incident - and I said, I have to finish this race now because if I drop out of this race, nobody's going to believe that women are serious.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should tell our listeners you won the New York City Marathon in the '70s. You came in second in Boston once. You've been running ever since. And now, again, you are going to run the Boston Marathon at 70 years old. What's - what are your hopes for the race day?

SWITZER: You know, what's going to happen on Monday, Patriots' Day here in Boston, is to come back 50 years and celebrate the fact, first of all, that I can run, that I'm capable of doing it, amazingly enough, and I'm very, very grateful for that. And I'm also very grateful for the opportunity to thank a city and the streets that changed my life and help to empower millions of women all around the world and change the face of the sport.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kathrine Switzer, good luck out there tomorrow and what an honor to speak with you.

SWITZER: Thank you so much. Good luck everybody and stay fearless.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

First Woman To Wear A Boston Bib Races Again, 50 Years Later

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was spotted early in the Boston Marathon by race director Jock Semple, who tried to rip the number off her shirt and remove her from the race. Switzer's friends intervened, allowing her to make her getaway to become the first woman to "officially" run the Boston Marathon. Paul Connell/Boston Globe via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Paul Connell/Boston Globe via Getty Images

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was spotted early in the Boston Marathon by race director Jock Semple, who tried to rip the number off her shirt and remove her from the race. Switzer's friends intervened, allowing her to make her getaway to become the first woman to "officially" run the Boston Marathon.

Paul Connell/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon, returned to the course 50 years after she made history — finishing in 2017 with a time of 4:44:31.

When Switzer ran in 1967, she was 20, and entered as "K.V. Switzer" — so none of the race organizers would know she was a woman. When she was discovered, after the marathon had already started, the race director tried to rip her bib numbers off her back.

Switzer finished anyway, and came back eight more times. In her later races, no subterfuge was necessary. And in 2017 Switzer, now 70, was cheered, not met with rage.

At the point where she was once confronted by that race official, she posted a Facebook Live video — smiling as she ran, with her bib number, 261, pinned safely in place.

Before the race, Switzer spoke with NPR about the day she made history.

She noted that a woman had already run the course once — without entering. Bobbi Gibb hid in the bushes by the starting line and snuck into the mass of runners as they passed, finishing in 3:21:40.

Still, despite proof that women could clearly complete marathons, the athletic world generally assumed that women "couldn't run and didn't want to run" that far, Switzer says.

The longest distance women were allowed to run in the Olympics at that time was 800 meters.

"It was feared that anything longer was going to injure women, that they wouldn't be able to have children or they somehow turned into men," she told NPR.

" 'You'll never have children,' they said. 'You're going to get big legs. You're going to grow hair on your chest.' It was hilarious, the myths.

"And, of course, when people hear myths, they believe them — because to try otherwise might mean damaging yourself. So people were afraid and they just went about their lives that way and restricted themselves."

Switzer's coach in 1967 was a 15-time Boston Marathoner and didn't think a woman could do it — which energized Switzer to try. (She changed his mind as she was training for the race, when she ran 31 miles during one session, SB Nation reports.)

So she entered the marathon, following all the proper procedures and just, well, neglecting to mention she was female.

Switzer told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro what happened when she was discovered:

"At about a mile and a half into the race, the press truck went by us, and they saw that I was a woman in the race wearing numbers and they began taking pictures. And alongside of the photographer's truck came the officials' press truck. And the race director [Jock Semple] was on the truck and the guys were teasing him.

"And he got so angry that there was a girl in the race that he stopped the bus and jumped off it and ran after me and attacked me in the race and tried to pull off my bib numbers, screaming at me, 'Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.'

"And I was just blindsided by this. I was terrified. I was scared. And my boyfriend came along with a full streak and gave the official a cross-body block and sent him out of the race instead. You know, we laugh about it now because it's so funny when a girl is saved by her burly boyfriend. But ... 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.' "

Switzer finished the race in four hours and twenty minutes.

As the years went on she advocated for women to be admitted as full competitors — and kept running more and more marathons. She won the New York City marathon in 1974. And she competed in Boston several more times, placing second in the women's race in 1975 with a time of 2:51, her personal best.

Switzer said her return to the race in 2017 was a way to, "celebrate the fact, first of all, that I can run — that I'm capable of doing it, amazingly enough, and I'm very, very grateful for that.

"And I'm also very grateful for the opportunity to thank a city and the streets that changed my life," she said, "and help to empower millions of women all around the world and change the face of the sport."