Kathrine Switzer, 67, became an instant symbol of the women’s running movement in 1967 after becoming the first officially registered woman to run the Boston Marathon that year. At the 2-mile mark, Switzer was attacked by a race official who didn’t think women should be allowed in the marathon. Switzer’s then-boyfriend, a former All-American football player, body-checked the official off the course. The iconic photo of the incident became of Time-Life’s “100 Photos That Changed the World.”
Oxygen: Women now account for more than half of race finishers in the U.S. Why have so many women decided to jump into the sport?
Kathrine Switzer: It’s sort of an exponential growth and the reason is simple: running is empowering. It pulls together a sense of accomplishment. Another reason now is the explosion of women’s-only races. They provide an atmosphere of non-intimidation and a lot of fun. There are many large ladies who would never go into a mixed race because they feel like people are judging them, but they would do a women’s-only run. And they’re going in groups with their girlfriends.
Oxygen: What challenges have women faced along the road to the recent running boom?
KS: When I started running [in the 1960s], I was the only woman I knew who ran, and it was a matter of overcoming a lot of myths. There was a lot of social stigma and women being nervous about exposing their bodies. Women were worried about losing their femininity, and then it became that women were afraid of running just like they were with weightlifting. Women began to meet in their running groups like a Saturday morning coffee klatch. They were letting their minds meditate and blowing off steam. And no matter how the days go, when you run, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Suddenly they were doing something that made them feel good and they gained some of the greatest friendships in their life.
Oxygen: After championing this cause for nearly 50 years, how does it feel to see so many women out there running now?
KS: Really very gratifying. To see them emerge and discover that sense of self and their own power and ability, it’s really thrilling. It’s almost a maternal feeling of watching a kid growing up. I feel like each of those women is one of mine. And every one of them running down the road with me – unless I’m injured, like I am now, then I get annoyed [she laughs].
Oxygen: What’s the injury?
KS: I’ve got a wonky Achilles. It’s the second injury I’ve ever had in 50 years of running. All I want is to run the Boston Marathon in 2017. It’ll be the 50th anniversary there and I’ll be 70.
Oxygen: You’re also putting together the 261 Marathon series, named after your race bib number from your groundbreaking Boston Marathon in 1967. What’s the goal with that race series?
KS: The reason we’re doing this 261 Marathon is that Europe is underserved with women’s-only races and North Africa and the Mideast are desperate to get into women’s-only events. The point of it is that 261 is not just that race, it’s a broader movement. The number 261 has become a number that represents being fearless. We’re tying to create an umbrella of communication to women to become fearless themselves. It’s a big big ambitious project and it’s happening so quickly. It’s part of what I think will become a huge global movement. Women have made great strides in the United States, but the rest of the world is only just begun. Watch out world, I’m on the rampage!
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