Staying in the Race

K.V. Switzer’s bib number for the Boston Marathon was 261.

It was a snowy Tuesday, 1967, the 70th anniversary of the world’s oldest marathon. Seventy years of men’s feet thumping and pounding over the pavement from Hopkinton to Boston.

And it was only men. Women didn’t run the marathon. Their uterus might fall out, people said. They’d get big legs, people said.

But Kathrine Virginia Switzer read the rules and saw no official prohibition on women. She paid the $3 entry fee, signed her name K.V. Switzer as she always did – she wanted to be a writer like J.D. Salinger and nobody spelled her first name right anyways – and she trained as she had been for months. Up in Syracuse where God invented snow.

Her coach was Arnie Briggs, the mailman at Syracuse University where Ms. Switzer was a journalism student. He’d run Boston 15 times, didn’t think no ‘dame’ could do it one time, until Ms. Switzer ran 31 miles to prove that a dame could do it and then some.

Race day, Mr. Briggs, Ms. Switzer, and Ms. Switzer’s boyfriend, Big Tom Miller, had pancakes, toast, eggs, bacon, more toast. Mr. Briggs picked up their bibs. The gun went off in the Tuesday snow. And a woman’s feet began thumping and pounding the pavement.

That is until mile four. Which was when Jock Temple, a race official, ripped through the runners towards Ms. Switzer.

“Get the hell out of my race,” he screamed at her back, “and give me those numbers!” he swiped at her 261 bib. And kept on swiping and screaming until he’d grabbed the back of Ms. Switzer’s shirt.

Ms. Switzer tried to pull away, tried again and again, until Big Tom Miller shoved Mr. Temple off her. “Run like hell!” Mr. Briggs shouted to her.

And bib 261 ran. Ran in the snow with all this terror and humiliation in her. Ran with the press yelling, “What are you trying to prove?” “Are you a suffragette?” And ran until she made a decision:

“I’m going to finish this race on my hands and knees if I have to because nobody believes that I can do this.”

Kathrine Virginia Switzer would go on to run 39 marathons, help get the women’s marathon into the Olympics, create women’s races in 27 countries.

But that Tuesday in 1967, she went on over the pavement from Hopkinton to Boston. Crossed the finish line in four hours and 20 minutes. And became the first officially-registered woman to run the Boston Marathon.

Or, put another way, bib 261 stayed the hell in the race.

The Lightning Notes is funded solely by kind donors. If something here strikes you, I’d be grateful if you’d consider donating. Click to Donate!