Right after she made history as the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967, a reporter asked Kathrine Switzer if she was “one and done” with the race distance. Her response? “I plan to be the 80-year-old woman you read about who’s still running marathons.”
True to her promise, at the age of 70, Switzer is still going strong and inspiring older runners everywhere to continue or get started in the sport. Not only did she run Boston again this past spring to mark the 50th anniversary of her monumental achievement, but she plans to run the New York City Marathon in November as well.
“I surprised myself at Boston because I went into it tired,” she says. “I ran well and I didn’t want to let my Boston fitness go, so I decided to run New York.”
En route to the marathon, this weekend she’ll be tackling a 5K at the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago. Her time there will also include an appearance at the expo on Saturday afternoon. “One of the reasons I’m involved with Humana and Rock ‘n’ Roll [Marathon Series] is that if we can show older runners that our sport can be engaging, social, and fun, we can keep them at it,” she says. “I’m trying to be a good example.”
Her message goes beyond the longevity of life through fitness, though. “I want people to see that they can extend the quality of their lives, not just the length,” she explains. “I’m approaching this 5K as a fun event, one that is accessible to anyone, at any age.”
This is especially true of shorter races like 5Ks and 10Ks. “For many women in particular, finding the time to train for half or full marathons can be tough,” Switzer says. “Staying fit through shorter distances is a good option when life is too busy for the longer races.”
Shorter distances are just where Switzer wants to be racing right now before she begins gearing up for New York City in earnest. Her marathon training has changed over the years as she embraces a gentler approach to running. “Back when I was really competitive, I put in 100-mile weeks,” she says. “Getting ready for Boston, my physician recommended I train every other day. That was a tough pill to swallow, but I’ve been amazed at how good I feel after those recovery days.”
Switzer will be bringing a few of her 261 Fearless ambassadors along with her to Chicago, representing the charity she started this year. The organization seeks to empower women to connect and take control of their lives through running. Using a series of non-competitive running clubs and communications channels, Switzer’s organization provides networking, support and education to women worldwide.
No matter where she is in life, Switzer continues to be an excellent ambassador for the sport she loves. If she keeps going the way she is now, there’s no doubt she’ll be making good on her intentions to run well into her twilight years.