Q+A with Katherine Switzer: The First Woman To Run Boston
Every once in a while, we get lucky enough to talk to some of the finest fittest role models in the game. Kathrine Switzer is one of those people.
Kathrine changed the running community forever when she toed the starting line of the 1967 Boston Marathon as the first woman to run as a numbered entry. Traditionally, the Boston Marathon was an all-male event + some were not pleased to see Katherine running alongside them. In fact, one race official physically attacked her while she was on the course [see picture below], but that didn’t stop her. She kept running + hasn’t stopped since.
Today, Kathrine heads 261 — a non-profit named after her bib number from the 1967 Boston Marathon. 261 is a lot like CHAARG in that it’s designed to empower women + give them the strength to face adversity. It’s organizations like 261 + women like Kathrine that remind us if we want to change the world, we have to be willing to try.
She is sharing some advice you can appreciate whether you’re a runner, yogi, or anything in between.
At the time of the 1967 Boston Marathon, did you think of yourself as making history – especially for women?
Absolutely not! I went to Boston as a gift from my coach. In practice, I told him I wanted to run a marathon + he didn’t believe a woman could possibly do it. He said women were too weak, too fragile. We argued + he finally said if I could prove him I could run a marathon in practice, he’d be the first person to take me. Take me he did. The intention was never to make history, but I’m glad it did.
What does it mean to be a woman athlete?
An athlete is an athlete — despite gender. It took a long time for people to understand that + some still don’t. But running is the only sport in which male and female winners are paid the same award money. That’s progress + I’ll take progress.
How have you evolved as an athlete + as a person since the 1967 marathon?
That race changed my life in an instant. It wasn’t necessarily the running that flipped things on their head; it was the decision to continue + finish the race after being attacked. I realized the only way women would ever understand how great it felt to run in a race like Boston + run in general is if they actually had the opportunity. I had to give them that opportunity, so I finished the race + years later, I got the women’s marathon into the Olympic games — the triumph of my life.
What does it mean to be a 261 woman?
A 261 [+CHAARG] woman is someone who doesn’t sit on her hands. If she sees something that isn’t right, she isn’t afraid to make it right. Everyone identifies with a time in which she felt she was unwelcome — whether it’s being too slow, too girly, too anything. This organization is about bringing women together to build each other up + remove that sense of rejection. We are all women + we have to come together. Being a 261 woman isn’t about just being part of an organization, it’s about being part of a global empowerment revolution.
Running is simple, in essence. It’s accessible but also immediately profound in ways that other sports are not. Anyone can run. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other. But it gives you a sense of stress relief + confidence that I would argue other sports just can’t do. There’s no downside to running. Just put on your shoes + go. Just get out there + move.
What’s your fav workout?
Other than running, I like to do yoga + pilates. Most days, though, I stretch, run long + stretch again. I can’t stress how important taking the time to stretch really is.
If you could workout with anyone [dead or alive] who would it be + what workout would you do?
I’d run with Emil Zetaphack. He won three gold medals in the 1952 Olympic games + he was the first person to train really, really hard. People didn’t train like that before him, but he changed the game. He’s a big hero of mine because I appreciate him as an athlete + as a person. He didn’t have an easy life, but he came out strong — something we all could take to heart.
Crunchy, greasy potato chips. I can’t keep them in the house or I’d eat the entire bag!
Words to live by?
Be fearless. Be free. Be grateful.
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Inspired by Kathrine as much as we are? Go out for a run in honor of her + women everywhere. Remember, it’s not about how fast you go. What matters is that you go.
+ Grace, Kent CHAARG