In April, Kathrine Switzer—athlete, activist, author, Emmy award-winning television commentator and founder of the nonprofit 261 Fearless—will run the Boston Marathon again. In 1967 the now 70-year-old runner was the first woman to run the race as a registered entrant (in 1966 Bobbi Gibb was the first female to run the Boston Marathon, but she was denied a registration). The course of Switzer’s life crystallized the moment race director Jock Semple tried to rip off her race bib, number 261. That’s when Switzer realized she wanted to empower other women through running. From starting the Avon International Running Circuit for women in the ’70s to lobbying to have the women’s marathon included in the Olympics in the ’80s, any woman who toes the line at a race today does so because of Switzer’s efforts.
What does the Boston Marathon mean to you?
The race, in a funny way, has given me everything—my inspiration, my feistiness, a career path. After that first race, I had a whole life plan about creating opportunities and becoming a better athlete.
How does the renewed activism today remind you of what you experienced during the women’s running revolution?
Since the turn of the century, I’ve been shaking my head a little bit because young women today don’t understand that all the rights and freedoms they enjoy were hard-fought. And now some of them may be taken away. What if someone came along today and said, “Women can’t run more than 800 meters, there’s been a mistake”?
How’s your Boston training going?
My training has been going well. I did a hard, hard 30K recently. So, I’m over the hump. I always see 30K as the breaking point for marathon training. I’ll be in Boston for a few days in March to work on the staging for the 261 Fearless runners. It’s at the same time as the Hop 21 (an unofficial run from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill, organized by many of the charity runners as their last long run), and I’m going to run it to help give me a sense of the course again.
261 Fearless has a big team for the Boston Marathon. What’s next for the program?
We have 121 people running with 261 Fearless, 114 women and seven men. Some are charity bibs the B.A.A. has given us and others are people who’ve qualified already but want to be part of the team and are raising money as well. I still see 261 Fearless as being in its infancy. The Boston Marathon is going to put it on the world map. 261 Fearless Clubs are about having a non-judgmental community of women and running correctly so you can run all your life injury-free. Whatever level these women run is up to them, but we want them to stay happy and healthy their entire lives. It’s a tremendous opportunity for women, but it’s not just “show up and run.” The thought is, if you want to do this, let’s do this correctly.