“When ordinary women run, they become extraordinary.”
So writes Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, in the new introduction to her 2007 memoir, “Marathon Woman.” Ms. Switzer’s 1967 race was marred two miles in when the race director, incensed that a woman was running with a race bib, tried to rip it off her. Fifty years later, 45 percent of the runners at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., were women. One of them was Ms. Switzer herself, once again wearing bib number 261. And one of those women was me, participating as part Ms. Switzer’s charity, 261Fearless, which provides financial support and training to women’s running groups and their coaches.
A little background: I’m 40. I began running about a decade ago. In that time, I have run 20 half marathons and four marathons. My times have improved steadily over the years, culminating in several sub-2-hour halfs and a 4:17 marathon personal best, but I remain a middle-of-the-pack runner — ordinary, if you will.
I oversee The New York Times Running Club and often write about running for The Times. Last fall I interviewed Kathrine Switzer for a story about running books. She told me about 261Fearless and invited me to join the team. I was daunted by the $7,261 fund-raising minimum but eager for another shot at 26.2 — and in Boston, no less, a major bucket list item for me but one for which I most likely would not have qualified on my own.
A month into training in January, I found out I was pregnant and would be 20 weeks pregnant at the time of the race. My doctor had encouraged me to keep running as long as I was comfortable. She cautioned that a second-trimester marathon might be uncomfortable, but if I felt O.K., I could do it. The people running the charity were also encouraging, so I persisted. I ran with a heart-rate monitor. I cut out speedwork and hill work since I could not do those at a conversational level, although I continued to train on some hilly routes, mindful of the notorious Heartbreak Hill. I did maintain my weekly long runs, but ran more by feel and time than by pace or distance.
Off I went to Boston. The night before the race, Ms. Switzer signed a copy of her updated book for me. I told her how much her story meant to me, a woman who grew up in the era of Title IX without ever once hearing that I couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t run. When I decided to run marathons, I received only encouragement, and that in and of itself was extraordinary. In both the micro and the macro sense, I wouldn’t have been in Boston if it weren’t for her.
On Monday I took a bus to Hopkinton with 124 women sporting 261Fearless logos on our burgundy singlets. We had a house to ourselves where we sat outside, eating bagels and discussing our race strategies while sharing Body Glide and lip balm and sunblock. Ms. Switzer, looking remarkably free of the weight of 50 years of history that she was passing off to us, arrived just after firing the gun to start the elite women off on their road to Boston. What a moment! When she returned, she gave us a pep talk, and then the members of 261Fearless walked together to the starting corral and crossed the start line together with Ms. Switzer. We were off as one, but each to her own race.
No one tried to rip off our bibs. I ran a marathon pregnant just five decades after women were told they couldn’t possibly run that distance, or really any distance, because their uteruses would fall out of their bodies. I ran past all the iconic sights of the Boston Marathon: The Wellesley “scream tunnel”; Heartbreak Hill, which lived up to its name; the Citgo sign. And I cried when I rounded the corner onto Boylston Street, where over 100 years of men and 50 years of women preceded me, where just four years ago bombs went off and made a tough city even stronger in its grief, and the blue and yellow finish line rose into the air.
And I felt extraordinary.
Audience reporter, Community Department