First Woman To Compete In Marathon Is Running In London Today, Aged 71

Kathrine Switzer is a female pioneer, a marathon trailblazer, and an all-round trouper.

While you might not have heard her name, 50 years ago Kathrine changed the face of the Boston Marathon by fighting off race officials to become the first official female competitor.

Fast-forward to 50 years later and today Kathrine is running the London Marathon, aged 71.

Back in 1967, Kathrine was just 20 when she entered the Boston race, facing adversity along the way - notably including an official who attacked her and tried to rip off her bib.

At the time, women were not allowed to compete in such lengthy runs and female competitions were cut at just 1,500 metres. And while women had in fact run the Boston Marathon before, it was never official and they were never given a number or finish time.

Speaking to the Metro, Kathrine said: "It was a funny era - women were always going into places where they wanted to be but people said they couldn't.

"For thousands of years, there was this myth that women couldn't do anything arduous, that if they did, they'd never have children... and those who could do something were really men - they'd grow hair on their chest or get big legs."

Kathrine completes the Boston Marathon again in 2017. Credit: Shutterstock
Kathrine completes the Boston Marathon again in 2017. Credit: Shutterstock

Overcoming the stereotypes perpetuated by society at that time, Kathrine - who has been running since she was 12 - said self-belief is something that has carried her throughout life.

She added: "I didn't see why you couldn't have it all. I wanted to be 100 percent good athlete but I wanted to be 100 percent woman."

Using just her initials and surname - KV Switzer - to sneak into the race, Kathrine was met to a cold reception from director Jock Semple as well as the other competitors.

However, her trustworthy coach shouted at Jock that he had trained her and she had a right to be there. Kathrine's boyfriend also stepped in and eventually she was allowed to compete.

Race director Jock Semple attempts to remove Kathrine during the 1967 marathon. Credit: Boston Globe
Race director Jock Semple attempts to remove Kathrine during the 1967 marathon. Credit: Boston Globe

Following the race, Kathrine was barred from entering the competition again, but by now she'd already ignited change - five years later, women were officially allowed to run with men.

She's gone on to compete in numerous races, has previously won the New York Marathon, and is among the thousands of women running the London Marathon today.

She added: "I look back and think, how did a 20-year-old girl have the guts to finish the race?

"But I was willing to kill myself to finish, on my hands and knees if necessary. I wanted to finish on behalf of all women because I knew if I didn't people would say women could not run a marathon."

Today she wears the same number she wore all those years ago - 261 - which has gone on to become a symbol of female strength and societal change.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock

Daisy Phillipson

Daisy is a UK-based freelance journalist with too many opinions. She loves everything film and music-related and has a track record writing for Little White Lies, BWRC, and Film Daily. Contact her at [email protected]

Next Up

arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up camera clock close comment cursor email facebook-messenger facebook Instagram link new-window phone play share snapchat submit twitter vine whatsapp logoInline safari-pinned-tab Created by potrace 1.11, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2013