There was a time a woman conquering the Boston Marathon was unheard of – Porter
By: Catherine Porter Columnist, Published on Tuesday June 04 2013
Long-distance running of any kind was considered unsuited to the delicate second sex, but Kathrine Switzer changed all that.
Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon.
This was 46 years ago. At mile two, a miserable man named Jock Semple tried to drag her off the course, shouting “Get the hell out of my race.”
He was the race organizer, and up ’til then, every marathon in North America had been an after-supper club affair: men only.
Long-distance running of any kind was considered unsuited to the delicate second sex. The 800-metre women’s race had recently been reinstated as an Olympic event after a 30-year hiatus because it was considered too straining for the female body. A woman who even attempted to run 42.2 kilometres was either crazy or suicidal, and in both cases disgraceful.
Official tries to kick Kathrine Switzer out of the 1967 Boston Marathon.
After Switzer finished the race, she got loads of hate mail of the “Who the hell do you think you are” kind.
“I had a gynecologist tell me after my sixth marathon, ‘You are in danger of prolapsing your uterus’,” Switzer told me as I warmed up this past Sunday. “The joke among woman is, if any sex organs are in danger of injury from sports, it’s got to be guys.’ “I was one of more than 2,100 women racing in the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon. Switzer was there at the start line to cheer us on.
How do you like them apples, Jock?
Switzer had not set out to break feminist ground. Like most of us runners, she simply loved the freedom and strength and challenge of the sport. She wanted to prove to herself that she could conquer the most gruelling running race in the world.
As she explains in her memoir Marathon Woman, there was no mention of gender in the entry form. That a woman would run the marathon was as inconceivable as an elephant running in it. She registered using her initials.
The day of the race, she wore men’s leather running shoes, jogging pants, some eyeliner and a glint of lipstick. Her point: Femininity and athleticism are not mutually exclusive.
In the end, the photo of Jock trying to yank her away made a bigger point: It was men’s rage and fear holding women back, not their physique or minds. Switzer’s linebacker boyfriend pushed Jock off, and she continued to finish the race and cross into history.
She made The Tonight Show and was officially banished from amateur sport. “Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos,” another race organizer told the press that day. “If she was my daughter, I’d spank her.”
Suck on that the next time you need some energy to run up a steep hill!
Together with a small group of elite women runners, Switzer continued to break into races until Jock agreed to open the Boston Marathon to women in 1972. She then worked on the International Olympic Committee. It introduced the women’s marathon in 1984.
“I had to defend myself and defend all women,” Switzer told me. “The best way was to create opportunity for women to prove we were equals.”
When I joined the running club in Grade 4, I hadn’t heard of Switzer. I had no idea I was reaping her rewards. I was just happy to feel the stretch of my legs and the boost of endorphins.
Today, running is my anxiety medication and my thinking cave. I get my best ideas while panting down to the beach. It’s the perfect sport for a hectic life: no class schedule, just some running shoes and “I’ll see you in 40 minutes.”
Races are wonderful because after weeks of solitary huffing, you join a heaving team. Even though the sport has become commercial, with glamour outfits and $300 shoes, we runners still come from humble stock. We know the anguish we’ve pushed through. We cheer one another on. Now, put 2,100 women runners together and you have a veritable lovefest! We hugged before starting.
Sizing up the beautiful, muscled bodies around me, I thought “How crazy that society didn’t think we were capable of this!”
But, then, how crazy is it that women ski jumpers weren’t allowed to compete in the 2010 Olympics and the 2012 games were the first for female Saudi competitors! The boundaries expand, but the battle continues.
Switzer is still fighting to bring running — and the sense of empowerment it brings – to women around the globe. She is 66 now. She recently raced her 39th marathon. She plans to run the Boston Marathon again in 2017, on the 50th anniversary of that famous run.
By the end of that race, 46 years ago, she was no longer angry with Jock or the stupid rules. She was exhausted and elated and buzzing with power.
That’s how I felt, this past Sunday. As I neared the finish line, I first glimpsed my husband and kids cheering me on. Then, after I crossed it, I saw Switzer. She hugged me.