Later this month, 50 years after making history, the first woman to run the iconic event will race it again
We caught up with Switzer about the 1967 race, her plans for this year’s marathon, and the broader landscape of women in sports.
OUTSIDE: What does it mean to you to run Boston again this year?
SWITZER: First of all, I’m very grateful that I’m healthy enough to attempt it. Anything can happen when you’re 70. And I’m thrilled for the celebration. Fifty years later, women make up almost half the field at Boston. It’s a phenomenal social revolution, and it has happened in my lifetime. To be there in Boston to celebrate that moment, the place where it all began, is extremely gratifying and validating.
Do you have a performance goal in mind for this race?
I don’t have a performance goal, but I don’t want to be out there for six hours! There are two objectives: the first is to get to the start line healthy, with as little fatigue as possible, which is hard, because there are so many demands on my time. [At the practice run] I was really, really weary. I thought, “Oh boy, this is going to be interesting!” But once you start running, you always feel better. That said, the last 10K of a marathon is still the last 10K of a marathon. The other objective is to finish.
Having said that, the training has been going well. Only a few little niggles, which, of course, at this stage you get totally psyched out about those. After this, I really want to take the training and do a few races that I have always longed to do and even helped to create. I won the New York City Marathon in 1974, but that was when it was in Central Park. I helped to get it on the streets in 1976, but then I was asked to do the commentary. When I run it [this year] though, it won’t be a big deal. I’m a 70-year-old woman running through the streets of New York—that’s not unusual!
What is your favorite part of the Boston Marathon course and why?
You can say it’s Wellesley, with everyone cheering, but I think it’s the moment you come over Heartbreak Hill, and you feel like you’re going to get there. People always talk about three hills at Boston, but there are actually four. At mile 16 is the worst one. Once you get over Heartbreak—it’s a wonderful hill, it dips and then goes up again—it’s not downhill to Boston, but it’s the moment you know you’re going to get your butt in.
Is there anything about the story of your first Boston Marathon that people often get wrong?
So many things! People say I disguised myself—I did not. I was wearing baggy gray sweats like everyone else. I was actually disappointed because I was wearing [something cute], but the weather turned, and I had to wear everything I owned. You couldn’t tell I was a woman, but all the men near me knew I was a woman.
People also think I intentionally used my initials instead of my full name [so people wouldn’t know I was a woman]. I’ve used my initials since I was 12. I wanted to be a sportswriter, and “Kathy Switzer” seemed dull for that. At that time, I was reading J.D. Salinger, e e cummings, T.S. Eliot. I thought, “If you’re going to be a writer, you sign your initials.” The truth is actually more fascinating.
What single piece of training advice would you give to a first-time marathoner?
Get the miles in. The difference between running a 10K and marathon is the difference between writing an article and a book. You’ve gotta get the miles in, but I wouldn’t worry for your first one about speed if your goal is really just to finish. But also train for the course—if you’re running Boston, you need to be training on downhills.