Last month, around 30,000 runners raced the Boston Marathon, with women making up about 45 percent of the field. But in 1967, there was only one woman with an official bib: Kathrine Switzer. Aside from training for months through the bleak winter, the 20-year-old journalism student had to break barriers, overcoming prejudice, criticism and ridicule just to toe the line in Hopkinton. At the time, it was widely believed that women were too delicate to run anything over a mile. Fears that long-distance running, or any vigorous sport, could cause uteruses to fall out, or turn women into men, were commonplace. Switzer challenged the Boston Marathon’s all-male tradition by becoming the first woman to register and finish. (Another trailblazer, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb, had run Boston the year prior, but unregistered.)
She had signed up as “K.V. Switzer,” thus escaping the immediate notice of race officials. But by mile two of that fateful 1967 race, Switzer had caught their full attention. The angry race director, Jock Semple, tried to rip off her bib—number 261—and throw her off the course. Instead, her then-boyfriend body-blocked Semple, and Switzer went on to show the world that women could in fact go the whole distance—all 42.2 kilometres. Images of her being attacked catapulted women’s running into the media spotlight, which altered the course of sports history forever. By 1971, the formal rules were changed: women could enter marathons.