In the 1960′s, women’s running was a pipe dream most didn’t dare to dream up. When the pervading social attitude towards women athletes was full of ridicule at best and violence at its worst, becoming a runner was not a sought after goal of the fairer sex. Women were told their uterus would fall out, it wasn’t feminine, or worst of all that they weren’t strong enough to handle anything beyond a mile.
But then, something wonderful was happening behind the scenes. A young woman named Kathrine Switzer was training diligently and through perseverance and a little luck, she started a quiet revolution that began to sweep powerfully into the mainstream world of running, challenging the old notion that women could not run.
It began in 1967 when she famously finished the Boston Marathon as the first female runner in history despite almost being shoved off the course by race director Jock Semple.
When the world of running was missing out on a group with some of the best endurance athletes in the world, Kathrine Switzer stood up and bravely faced the masses, proving them wrong one race at a time. And if you doubted her athleticism, she worked hard at becoming more than just a pioneer by training twice a day, seven days a week and racking up strong times for the marathon such as her personal best. a sub 3 at 2:51.
In the years to come, great changes would occur because of her tenacious pursuit of equality for women runners. In 1972 women were finally allowed to run Boston without fear or reprimand. And in 1984 after years of strategic maneuvering and a multitude of races organized by Avon and spearheaded by Kathrine, the Olympics had its first women’s marathon.
One day, while I was scrolling through the 40th annual Space Coast Half Marathon’s Facebook page I found out that Kathrine Switzer would be there as a key note speaker!! I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to send the woman that made it possible for me and countless others to run a note thanking her for everything she has done. In the e-mail I also asked if she would do a mini-interview for this blog on the off chance that she could spare some time from her incredibly busy schedule. And I mean uber busy! She just jetted from the NYC marathon to Florida for a set of two more marathons that take place within weeks of each other!
She responded in a flash and very kindly agreed to answer some questions. Here they are:
1. In your book you mention running being similar to religion in that it helps you feel closer to God. What are your thoughts on running and spirituality? I THINK LONG RUNNING IS AN INTENSELY SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE, PARTICULARLY IF IT IS DONE OUTDOORS. THE SEASONS, THE AIR, THE SUN AND DARK, ALL KINDS OF WEATHER–THESE THINGS REMIND US WE ARE A PART OF NATURE. ALMOST ALL OF US FEEL A SENSE OF GRATITUDE–WE ARE LUCKY TO RUN, WE FEEL OUR OWN STRENGTH, AND IT RENEWS OUR SENSE OF BEING VITAL AND FULL OF LIFE. ALSO, IF WE RUN LONG, OUR THOUGHTS RAMBLE AND WE GIVE OURSELVES ENOUGH SPACE TO THINK BIGGER THOUGHTS, LIKE ABOUT THE UNIVERSE, OUR ROLE IN IT, AND THIS SPACE GIVES US THE TIME TO REFLECT AND MEDITATE. TO ME THIS IS ONE OF THE ESSENTIAL ASPECTS OF RUNNING, GIVING OURSELVES SPACE TO GO DEEP INSIDE OUR MINDS, AND TO FEEL GRATITUDE.
2. You wore some interesting outfits in your early running days, always taking care to look feminine even though they didn’t have many options for women back then. How do you feel about the recent surge in women wearing feminine running attire like skirts and running dresses like Nu-Muus? Do you ever run in these?
YOU KNOW I JUST LOVE THE NEW WOMEN’S RUNNING FASHIONS!! I TOOK A LOT OF GRIEF IN THE 70S FOR LOOKING ‘GIRLIE GIRL’ WHEN I RAN IN SKIRTS, BUT I NOT ONLY WANTED TO LOOK GOOD, I WANTED THE CHAFE-FREE MOVEMENT ONLY A SKIRT CAN BRING. ALSO, I WAS ANNOYED THAT SOME WOMEN FELT WE HAD TO ADOPT THE MEN’S MODEL FOR A SPORT WE WERE JUST CREATING FOR OURSELVES! HEY, IT’S NEW FOR US, WE SHOULD WEAR WHAT WE WANT TO WEAR! WE CAN MAKE OUR OWN FASHION RULES! SO GO FOR IT FASHION DESIGNERS! I LOVE ALL THE NEW STUFF AND DEFINITELY PREFER SKIRTS. ATTACHED PHOTO IS OF ME HEADING TO THE START IN THE RECENT BERLIN MARATHON IN MY BEAUTIFUL ICEBREAKER MERINO WOOL SKIRT!
3. What has been the most memorable running advice you’ve received?
TRY TO RUN EVERYDAY, MAKE IT A PART OF YOUR LIFE.
4. What’s next for you? Is there another big race or another type of goal in your horizon?
I’M JUST BACK TO RUNNING AFTER TAKING 5 WEEKS OFF (YES, 5 WEEKS!) AFTER RUNNING BERLIN. I WAS HAMMERED AFTER THAT RACE AND NOW AM GOING TO HUNKER DOWN AND GET REALLY FIT, NOT JUST RUNNING FIT, I’M GOING TO WORK ON ABS AND QUADS AND MORE STRETCHING. I THINK I WILL CONCENTRATE ON SHORTER RACES AND HALF MARATHONS TO GET A LITTLE SPEED BACK SO I AM NOT OUT THERE SO LONG ON THE MARATHON COURSE. NOT SURE WHAT THE NEXT ‘MARATHON’ RACE IS, OR ‘BLOCKBUSTER’ EVENT, STAY TUNED.
5. Is there anything you’d like to say to women considering running a marathon?
YES, IT’S A BIG LIFE ACHIEVEMENT, BUT IT’S ONLY THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE. YOU HAVE TO LOVE THE PROCESS, YOU MUST LOVE PUTTING ON YOUR SHOES AND GOING OUT THE DOOR EVERY DAY AS IT’S THE MILES THAT MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. AND SURE, SOMETIMES WE JUST HATE PUTTING ON THE SHOES AND GOING OUT THE DOOR….BUT TRUST ME, AS SOON AS YOU ARE OUT THERE AND MOVING, IT’S ALL WONDERFUL. MAKE THE EFFORT!
For many of us, running has become a respite from the daily grind; a place to think and work things out without distraction. A sport we are welcomed to become a part of at any point in our lives. One that I know has been the source of happiness for so many women because it gives us the power and confidence to tackle anything. Kathrine Switzer calls it the “magic secret weapon” and I have to agree it truly is a fantastical gift. Let us all remember that change can begin with one person and have unimaginable impact for countless others if we just have the courage to try.
Kathrine Switzer will be at the Space Coast Half Marathon Expo on Saturday November 26,2011 selling and signing copies of her book Marathon Woman from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Pick up a copy of this book, you will not regret it! **I will post a review in the upcoming days**
Till next time,
Update: Met Kathrine Switzer just before heading to the Space Coast Half Marathon Pasta Dinner: