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Women Celebrate a Half-Century of the Boston Marathon, Sans Opposition

21 Sep, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When the Boston Marathon opened registration for its April 17, 2017, event, a name was added to its roster: Kathrine Switzer.

It certainly wasn’t the first time. Switzer’s name was prominently featured in Boston in 1967, when she made history as the first woman to pin on an official race bib (number 261) and run the marathon in an era when distance running was a men’s-only event. Switzer was booed, attacked and harassed, but aided by friends, she crossed the finish line. It wasn’t until 1972 that the marathon would officially welcome women as participants, but Switzer had already kicked that door down and would go on to places most of the male runners wouldn’t, becoming a successful racer, event director and television commentator.

Now she’ll be back on the marathon streets in Boston, running with a team of women representing her new global non-profit, 261® Fearless, Inc., which empowers women and encourages them to live a healthy lifestyle – though a marathon isn’t required. Active communication platforms, a series of running clubs, events, training and merchandizing are all a part of the organization.

And it all started with the woman who ran in Boston 50 years ago and now, at the age of 70, will lace up her sneakers again. 

“It is an honor and joy to participate in the 121st Boston Marathon,” said Kathrine Switzer.  “What was a dramatic incident 50 years ago when angry race co-director Jock Semple tried to throw me off the course for being a girl, became instead a defining moment for me and women runners throughout the world. The result is nothing less than a social revolution; there are now more women runners in the United States than men.”  

According to Running USA, “the Boston Athletic Association early on realized the seriousness of women’s desire to participate and the potential of their endurance. In 1972, five years after the ‘Switzer Incident’, the BAA welcomed women as official competitors. Switzer was 3rd in that race, ran Boston eight times, and posted her personal best of 2:51:37 in the 1975 edition. Boston was the first major marathon to admit women; this opened the floodgates for women’s participation globally.”

 There is no doubt the running industry for women has exploded globally. The Running & Fitness Event, held annually in Chicago, has experienced growth each year. In 2013, Running USA released its first report on women and running, including the economic impact they were having on road races.

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