On the eve of the 2012 Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer– the first woman to officially enter and run the race– celebrates the 40th anniversary of the year that changed everything. To my regular readers and friends, my apologies: I haven’t written a blog in almost two years. In many ways, these have been the most exceptional 24 months of my life, and I promise to tell you about them in the near future. But for now, it’s Boston time! Read on–
Official at Last: The Year That Changed Everything
“And, so, uh…you ladies are welcome at Boston. But you have to meet the men’s qualifying time!”
So spoke Jock Semple, the crusty race co-director of the Boston Marathon to a handful of us women on the eve of the Boston Marathon in 1972. Jock was the man who, five years before, physically attacked me in an explosion of rage when he saw me—a girl! —running with official bib numbers in the Boston Marathon. Women were not permitted to run the marathon, insisted Jock, and even though I finished the race, he had me disqualified from the race and expelled from the athletic federation.
There really were no rules then forbidding women to run; there just were no long distance events offered for women, mostly because people believed that women doing anything as arduous as running 26.2 miles were endangering their femininity and shouldn’t run with men anyway. But after my run and Jock’s attack made headlines, people began to question this reasoning. Other women began to run and a few of us annually made our way to Boston and ran unofficially, jumping into the race after the start and getting better and better. For five years we ran, campaigned, wrote articles, and legislated to create official status for ourselves in the marathon race. The media was all over it, showing how our improved times clearly showed our strength and capability.
In 1972 we were successful at last, but old Jock was still fuming and insisted we do it on the male standard. That’s fine, we said. There were seven of us who could run a 3 hour 30 minute marathon and we were all at Boston that day.
I remember very clearly how exhilarated we felt: after all these years at last we were free to be athletes and no longer had to run carrying the banner of the whole female sex. We knew we were breaking down a political and social barrier just as surely as our suffragist foremothers did when they won the right to vote, or forced universities to become coeducational. Our only limitations now were self-imposed.
Today in the age of extreme sports, it is important to remember that in 1972, the marathon was considered the most arduous of all sports events. Giving women permission (endorsement) to participate alongside men threw thousands of years of preconceptions about female weakness out the window. Fifty years earlier, people had been afraid to let women exercise their brains. Until 1972, people were afraid to let women exercise their bodies. Inclusion in the Boston Marathon was the turning point in that thinking.
We were the women who made it happen, we were there together, and when we stepped over the starting line we knew were stepping into a new era. We were still nervous, though! There naturally was a burden of expectation, but the pressure and defensiveness of previous years was over. We’d already won the Big Race.
It is interesting that two months later, on June 23, President Nixon signed into law Title IX, the equality of education amendment that prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity within an institution receiving any type of federal financial assistance. This wasn’t directly related to our work in getting the Boston Marathon to open it’s door to women, but the timing was significant. Clearly, if women can run a marathon, they can do anything.
I finished third in that 1972 race and Jock Semple presented me with my trophy, which was broken. He apologized for that, but said, “I’ve been mad at you for five years and you deserve a broken trophy.” The next year he gave me a starting line kiss in front of the press cameras, and we became the best of friends.
There are now more women runners in the United States than men, and around the world, millions of women identify themselves as runners. On Monday, April 16, there will be over 10,000 women running the Boston Marathon. The women’s race in Boston has become such a featured attraction that the elite women have an earlier start, so we can enjoy watching their competition as much as the men’s. Among those watchers will be a few of us from 1972, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the year that changed everything.
Kathrine Switzer, now an acclaimed speaker and the author of Marathon Woman, ran the Boston Marathon eight times, and posted her best time of 2:51 there in 1975. On April 16, 2012 she is doing her 33rd consecutive television broadcast of the race for WBZ-TV. Her story was featured on MAKERS.com, and will also be included in the upcoming 2013 PBS documentary MAKERS: Women Who Make America.
Please visit her website (www.marathonwoman.com) for more information about her, and how to contact her as a speaker for your event.
In the meantime, here is the preview from the MAKERS documentary:
I HATE getting up really early. So much so that 30 years ago, when I last took myself seriously as a runner, I often vowed that there would come a day when I would not have to get up at the crack of dawn to train. My favorite races were always those that started at noon. Give me sleep and give me a good breakfast! Then I could run all day AND take on the world’s problems.
But in my life now as an afternoon runner, I still have to get up early for race broadcasts and for the occasional participation. It is just as hard as it ever was, but I always try to find the worthiness in these early mornings, even though they never include breakfast. Last Sunday morning at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon was a case in point. I had to get up at 3:30AM to be on the set at 4:30AM for the radio broadcast of the race that began at 5AM. There is no point in asking who is listening to the radio at 5AM; apparently a lot of people are, including the station general manager, who is probably the most important listener of all!
One of the most enthralling sights in running is watching a major race unfold in the pre-dawn hours, and as I walked from my hotel in utter darkness to the start area, it was inspiring to see race volunteers working in the glare of car headlights and portable lanterns to set up traffic barriers, banners, and timing mats. It is kind of like watching a speed camera of plants growing —from ordinary fields and roadways emerges the structure of a major marathon. Then slowly cars begin arriving, people emerge and spots of color dot the landscape as the sky lightens to grey, and then lilac.
Before I get too romantic about this vision, I have to confess that I agreed to help with this broadcast only if they had hot coffee on site, and they did, God love ‘em. But what was particularly worthy about this show was that it was an exciting ‘first’- a combined broadcast of six radio stations: WIXY (who also did a series of Marathon Monday shows leading into the race), Mix 94.5, 92.5 The Chief, 97.9 True Oldies, WIXY Classic 99.1 and eXtra 92.1. We had an expert on sports, on weather, on traffic, on news and a great MC. The 5AM-8AM broadcast was ostensibly for the general public, taking them live into the starts of all the races.
But once there, and feeling intense humidity in the atmosphere, I saw it as a major service to the 14,300 runners who were waking up, eating, dressing and driving to perhaps the most important race they’d ever run. If they were tuned in to us, we could give them very helpful information. With six stations on the job, we had a chance to reach a lot of them, especially those driving in.
The night before, Champaign-Urbana had narrowly avoided a Tornado. Predicted rain and windstorms worried competitors and bedeviled race organizers. In the face of this, the morning air at 5AM seemed excellent for running. But it was 88% humidity with strong prevailing winds from the southwest. Standing in it at 62 degrees dawn you felt you needed long sleeves or a light jacket. Running into it was going to be another matter.
Again and again we gave listeners the weather and told them what that could mean as runners. Basically I kept saying Wear As Little As Possible and take plenty of electrolyte replacement drinks. If the sun comes out, be prepared to slow down or walk.
The sun came out and it was beastly sticky. At the finish line, seeing the number of half marathoners still in sleeved shirts, capri pants, and even tights (! Can you imagine?) I surmised not all of them had their radios on that morning, but enough did to take heed and say thank you. Seven people were taken to the hospital with heat related problems, but all were fine. Out of a field of 14,300, that is remarkable and I think we made a contribution to that safety. Then the humidity dropped a bit and it got cloudy, and this favored the marathoners, all who seemed to finish in good health and spirits.
Indeed, the spirit of the whole race, and the execution of it was fabulous. Finishing in the great Memorial Stadium, on the hallowed ground of the legendary Red Grange, was awesome. Shaking hands with the finishers was a sweaty but heart-warming experience. And afterward, sitting in the stands and having a free pizza lunch sure beat out the routine of finish line bananas. It was a most satisfactory ‘breakfast.’
Don’t miss this race next year, and be sure to tune in!
The Boston Marathon last week was brilliant; it always is, no matter what the outcome. Has anyone ever left Beantown the day after the race and not been awestruck?
This year, thanks to a sunny cool day and a wind that became a tailwind at half way, there were hundreds of PRs. The first one set was by Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, who set a course record of 2:05:52. A 2:05 at Boston!! Can you imagine? He obliterated the previous record of 2:07:14 and also set a world record for the fastest marathon run without pacesetters.
Young Robert –there are two reasons I call him this—took control of the race when the wind favored him, at about 17 miles, and poured on the pace. Nobody would—or could—stay with him, and he ran with a kind of fearless, but controlled abandon. Beautifully brilliant.
He is going to go down in history as “Cheruiyot the Younger” because indeed he is very young, only 21, and because the course record he broke was that of his 31-year old friend and advisor, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, who is a four-time winner of Boston. Like previous Boston Marathon champions John A. and John J. Kelley, the two Cheruiyots will be known as “The Elder” and “The Younger.” This is one way that Boston makes its history, and in 114 years of running, this race has plenty of opportunities.
History was made again in the women’s race, when Ethiopian Tayba Erkesso (winner of January’s Houston Marathon) broke boldly at about halfway from a large group of women leading the race at a sluggish pace and just went for it. Countrywomen Dire Tune (Boston champ in 2008) and Koren Yal tried to go with her, but the move was so fast and the pace so quickened that they fell away. Erkesso made her way alone but began slowing at mile 23. That’s when the figure of Tatyana Pushkareva emerged on the horizon. Pushkareva was not considered a podium contender, despite winning the San Antonio and Country Music marathons last year but in Boston she judged her pace perfectly and was having the best race of her life. She moved closer and closer to Erkesso— one minute back, 34 seconds back, and suddenly on the home stretch it was only eight seconds back. There was a final rush to the finish as Erkesso barely hung on, winning by three seconds. Last year, the race was won by one second, and the year before, by two seconds. Lately, the big finish line drama at Boston is in the women’s race!
As I came down off the finish line photo bridge, which is our WBZ-TV perch for doing the TV commentary of the race, I was engulfed in a slowly moving street-full of race finishers. They were silent, as they were weary; but they were smiling through those deeply lined faces. There were lots of PRs, and later that evening, when they met their friends for dinner, the streets of Boston were full of the sound of their laughter and high fives, and the clanking of their medals. This is a wonderful sight and while it always leaves me feeling a bit envious when I haven’t run myself, it gives me a feeling of hope about the human condition. 25,000 people have done something quite extraordinary. Beautifully brilliant.
Now I’m on a plane heading to Champaign, Illinois for the second running of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. There are 14,300 participants in only its second year! But it is no surprise that this race was a success from it’s inception since it is organized by three exceptionally energetic and highly-organized people– Mark Knutson, Executive Director, and race co-directors Jan Colorusso Seeley and Mike Lindemann. Race directors from all over the country are already there, volunteering their time and expertise…this group really understands the sport, and they also know how to make fun, festive and accomplishment happen. With the added impact of flat streets and a finish in the great Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois, there is good reason the race sold out some time ago. (Although the race team generously did open registration again for 300 people who were turned off the course at Nashville last week because of tornado sightings).
Come by the Marathon & Beyond booth at the expo in the University of Illinois Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on Friday and visit with 8-times Boston Marathon wheelchair champ, Jean Driscoll and me. We’re speaking at 2 PM and also speaking at all three pasta dinners, held in the same building. On race day, Jean is doing the half marathon, and I’m helping with the local radio broadcast. For more details, go to http://www.illinoismarathon.com. CU there!
For the last 44 years, my heart rate begins to go up starting with the first day in April. By now, April 10, I also feel anxious and edgy. By the time I get to downtown Boston and see the banners fluttering and a big gold and blue FINISH painted on Boylston Street, I will be in full hyperventilation.
No, I’m not running. I’m doing my 28th consecutive telecast for WBZ-TV. You’d think I’d have gotten over being nervous about this telecast a long time ago; I mean, I have been there longer for the broadcast than any other Boston Marathon commentator, producer or even news director! Plus I’m working with the best group of friends and colleagues in the business. But I get nervous because it’s just like running—you do so much preparation and then you want very much to get it right on the day, at the precise moment.
TV is also like running because every race is different and you have to deal with the unexpected while on the move. And this year, more than ever before, those moves will be many and very fast. Both the men’s and women’s fields are loaded.
Three returning women’s champions will start and they are all top contenders: Lidiya Grigoryeva (winner in ‘07), Dire Tune (‘08), and Salina Kosgei (‘09). It’s an important historical moment to have that many in-shape women’s champions together; it speaks not only to the importance of this race but as their ages span from 24-36, it is testimony to women aspiring to and holding onto top professional status for a long time, despite the rigors of the sport. (Up to two days ago, there were actually four returning champions, but four-time Boston champion Catherine Ndereba, who probably knows more about the demands of long-term performance than anybody, had to withdraw with a piriformis injury.) Add to this list a slew of lesser-know speedsters–particularly Ethiopian women, who have been a tidal wave force in increasing the elite depth of women’s running. Today, Ethiopian women won both Rotterdam and Paris.
The men’s field boasts nine men faster than 2:07. I just looked at the list and thought, this can’t be true! Athletic performance never fails to stun us, but the outpouring of superb men’s marathon times makes talk of a sub 2-hour marathon suddenly less unthinkable. (Rotterdam today was won in 2:04, after all…) What is intriguing about the men’s race, however, is that Boston is not a fast course. It can be run fairly fast, but it first has to be run strategically, and that will make this a fascinating race. That should play into the hands of both D. Merga of Ethiopia and A.Goumri of Morocco, fast guys who know how to hold back and wait, but also of American Meb Keflezighi, who won the New York City Marathon last November using this tactic. Meb is only ranked 16th coming into Boston, but to me he’s the most dangerous. And you all just KNOW the USA is desperate to have an American winner of Boston; the last was Greg Meyer in 1983. By the way, I am not at all overlooking American Ryan Hall! Ryan is 3rd ranked in this field and likes to go fast; his challenge is if he does that, will he have to do all the early work himself?
Everyone wants to score an upset in Boston, because if you do it here you’ve done it on the world stage. All around me I see many young, extremely talented unknowns who are aggressive and determined to give it all they have to change their lives on these storied streets. Just getting to the start line here is a triumph—ask any of the other 25,000 runners who had to qualify just to get a bib number. Maybe the biggest story in Boston are those numbers—11,315 of whom are women by the way, a massive record—who have gone well beyond fitness to be at Boston. And for the many more who qualified this year but were turned away as the Boston streets simply cannot hold more runners. The capacity for human performance will continue to amaze us, and I am delighted to be reporting on it. Nervous, of course, just like a race. But what a privilege!
I’d love to see you in Boston; here’s where I will be, so stop by or tune in, they are all open to the public:
- At the Marathon Tours Booth # 2001 at the Expo at the Hynes Convention Center, I’ll be signing and selling my book Marathon Woman and the matching shirt. Hours: Friday, April 16 (3-7PM), Sat., Apr.17 (2-5:30PM) and Sun, Apr.18 (noon-2:30PM).
- Sunday morning, April 18, at the start line stage of the BAA 5K race on Copley Square, about 7:30 before the 8AM start.
- At the annual Runners World ‘Legends Panel’, I’ll be speaking along with legends Ron Hill, Greg Meyer, Dick Beardsley and Lisa Rainsberger. Location and Time: Sheraton Boston Hotel, Back Bay Ballroom C, 2nd floor, 3 PM.
- Monday, April 19: tune in to WBZ-TV (CBS affiliate) from 9:30-2PM to watch the greatest race on earth!
Good luck ! And my best to you, Kathrine
Just for the record, the endorphins are still surging from finishing the Mototapu Icebreaker Marathon last week! I can’t wipe the grin off my face, and to tell you the truth, this feels almost as good as seeing a book you’ve been writing for years finally published.
When it’s been a long time, and in my case 34 years since I did my last marathon distance, you can’t quite believe you’ve done it. My book, Marathon Woman, took almost that long, too, as I kept writing, and then would put it away. I just wasn’t ready to go that deep again in both cases. It hurts to plumb the depths, physically or emotionally.
But now I’m ready to go again, because in writing or running, empowerment from doing it builds confidence and takes away the fear of pain or failure.
I’ve known this all my life; I lecture on it, I write about it…but when it comes to yourself, it’s a new story. I’ve learned a lot about myself from this difficult marathon, and it’s both hilarious and eye-opening.
I’d trained hard, had done at least 8 runs over 3 hours, 2 over 4 and one at 5 ½, wearing a backpack loaded with the emergency gear I needed to carry on the run and doing them all on rough, rocky and hilly tracks. Still, I was nervous as hell; was it enough? The Motatapu is one of New Zealand’s toughest races; it’s not about time, it’s about doing it. It turned out yes, I’d done enough, but no, I was still not prepared enough. Both the up hills and downhills were steeper and longer than any I’d done; I felt gypped that after having to walk some of the uphills that the downhills were so steep I could not really run them, but instead had to jog carefully down the loose shingle.
The river crossings nearly killed me. I guess I couldn’t imagine that I’d get more than splashed; instead the rushing water and slick bottom stones nearly knocked me over and my shoes so filled with water and grit from the force of the streams that when I tried to lift my now very heavy feet, my hip flexors began to howl in protest. There was one advantage to the streams though: the water was so bitingly cold it totally numbed your calves and feet. So when you ran on the sharp stones, you couldn’t feel them.
And the glutes! Oh dear, I talk about having to sit on a tennis ball to break up the little anvil in my buttocks, but at half way, both of them just seized on me. I had a Crisis of Confidence. Yup, my first one ever in a marathon. I thought, ‘I can’t lift my legs! I might not be able to finish this.’ My watch said 2 ½ hours, I kept telling myself to get a grip; I’d done 5 ½ hours in training. But not with an immobile backside.
For those of you who know me, you know I am skeptical of anything but the Hard Work School of Running Improvement. So you will now laugh your own butts off when I tell you that I was so nervous about this race that I’d pasted magnets on my butt, on my back, in my arches; I visualized myself happily sipping a latte at the finish; I carried extra energy gels and now I was looking heavenward and invoking all the old helpful spirits of my life. At one point, I said, “I’ll tell you what, God, if you just loosen these glutes a little, just a little, I think I can finish. How about it?”
And POW like a lightening bolt came the message, “You idiot, you put a fast-acting Advil in your pocket this morning, why don’t you take it? And why don’t you take your energy gel?” And so I did. I had no idea why I’d put an Advil in my pocket when I left my hotel room; I’d never done that before in hundreds of races, and I rarely used gels. They both worked like a charm. I began to loosen up, began to stride again. Oh boy!
I even began to appreciate the scenery, which is why I wanted to do this race in the first place. On environmentally protected land, this remote, wild, high sheep country is both stunning and scary. The scale is beyond vast; there is no one there; it’s about both survival and appreciation. I was one lucky and grateful woman to see it and run through it. But I still wanted it over.
The last 10k of this event is downhill. Gorgeous but not nice, it is rocky and treacherous, with a sheer cliff on the right hand side. The race instructions say, “If you go over this cliff you likely will die. So stay left.” I was hugging the left canyon wall but did venture a peep over the side to see if it really was a cliff and nearly puked, so you get the picture. As I ran down this track I was seriously jamming my toes into the end of my shoes, but my feet were still frozen and I couldn’t feel it. I was sure I’d lose all my toenails the next morning, but since I couldn’t feel anything, I just thought, what the hell!
With a mile to go, thinking you were home at last, you go around a curve and find that the next half-mile is a slog through a river bed, with big stones to crack your ankles against. I looked heavenward again and asked, “Tell me, is this a test?”
Then out of the water and around another curve, we burst out of the woods and could see a mob of cheering people lining the finish chute on the village green in the tiny mountain village of Arrowtown. I was happy to finish strongly, as Roger was there with a hot latte and a bacon sandwich and I found myself blinking back tears.
Postscript: The next day, I had absolutely no soreness. I did not even bruise a toenail, nor have a blister. I’d heard that trail running left your legs in good shape, but this was an absolute revelation to me, as the road marathons used to just shred my feet and thighs. Roger and I went for a 3-hour hike, much of it up a mountain slope and down again, and I felt fine. Later in the day I discovered that my time of 5 hours 38 minutes was good enough to win my age group by 33 minutes….of course, there were only four women over-60! But I was 164 of all 270 women; that pleased me a lot, even though I swear I’m not competitive.
Have fun, be fearless, be free.
Dear Friends–after 34 years, I did my first marathon distance at the Mototapu Icebreaker in the South Island of New Zealand (www.iconicadventures.co.nz) and let me say, I was a bit out of my mind to choose one of the hardest endurance races in New Zealand: through the mountainous high country, carrying a pack, 28 river crossings, all off-road with astonishing descents as well as ascents. I finished in 5 hours 38 minutes; average time for women over 50 is over 6 hours so I am exceedingly pleased. Mostly to know an old body can gear up again and embrace adventure. I will write more when I can, I have limited time here on my computer in the mountains, with dodgey network connection, just wanted to say THANK YOU! It was gorgeous and amazing.
I’ve been running for 50 years. It staggers the imagination. Even mine!
That’s an awful lot of miles, and since I do my best thinking on the run, that’s a lot of contemplation. I’ve put many of those thoughts and ideas into three books, hundreds of speeches, more business proposals than I want to remember, and a bursting idea box.
Now it’s time for a blog. I know, I know, Luddite techno-phobic me has finally realized that plenty of ideas don’t make it into books, most books don’t get published, and when they do it takes at least a year. And nobody is going to see an idea that is jammed into an idea box. Plus, you all have been needling me to create some kind of interactive forum, so here goes.
Here’s my first topic—Rekindling the Fire. (Also known as what keeps you motivated, sustaining the interest, and what gets you out running every day for those of you who inevitably ask that question!)
On March 13, I’m planning to run my first marathon in 34 years. I’m 63, and to tell you the truth, I’m more than a little nervous. But I think the reason that I’m compelled to throw myself back into this madness has resonance for all of us.
My last marathon distance race—where I actually pinned on a number and committed myself publicly to 26.2 miles (42.2 K) —was 1976, 34 years ago. Sure, in those 34 years I ran regularly, raced and competed, but all at shorter distances.
Plus, after running 35 marathons, the desire to actually do the distance again wasn’t as fascinating to me as broadcasting it for TV, or writing about it in another book. My work, which involves huge amounts of international travel, also made getting consistent long runs very difficult.
Then, two years ago, my friend Thom Gilligan from Marathon Tours and I were working to revitalize the Bermuda International Race weekend and Thom came up with this crazy idea of the Bermuda Triangle Challenge—three races in three days. When he asked me to run it I told him he was out of his mind; it was crazy when I was running 100 miles a week and it is even nuttier now that I’m age 60 and jogging 25. He badgered; I whined. Then I began training because I was curious. Could I do this?
I was also meeting plenty of women who were my age and older who were running in amazing events, and although I admired and lauded them, I began to feel a little… what? Not quite competitive, but kind of irritated with myself for feeling left out.
I did indeed do the Bermuda Triangle Challenge, and even won my age group and $100 cash in the 10k! I was on such an endorphin high after winning the first ever prize money in my life and getting through the half marathon the next day that I was totally hooked again.
Then the clincher: A year later, we launched my book Marathon Woman in the South Island of New Zealand at a race called the Motatapu Icebreaker. This event is held on environmentally protected land that is open to the public only one day a year for an off-road marathon and 50K bike race. The proceeds raise money to protect the land; it is jaw-dropping beautiful, remote and pristine. I recall telling myself ‘If you don’t run this, you won’t see it, and it would be a shame to miss something so special.’
Thus, I’ve been pouring on the miles, the time-consuming miles, almost all on rough trails and wearing a hot and hated backpack. You can follow my training in the link above (Follow Kathrine’s training), but just to advise you in brief: it’s been an astonishing experience. It’s a whole new body! But it’s the same old mind. So it’s also wondrous. When I get ready for a hard workout, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry for the dread or the discovery. When I finish a hard workout, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry for the result or the knowledge.
The point is this: I’m motivated because I have a goal, and my fire is rekindled because it is challenging. I figure it this way: difficult is only temporary and fascinating is forever.