Women’s Running Pioneer Kathrine Switzer Returning to Boston Marathon

Kathrine Switzer stands in front of a photo mural showing the famous scene from the 1967 Boston Marathon.

Kathrine Switzer is heading back to the Boston Marathon next year. The women’s running pioneer, accomplished marathoner, author and entrepreneur will be running the race to celebrate 50 years of her historic 1967 Boston Marathon finish.

On April 19, 1967, Switzer made history by pinning on an official race bib and running the Boston Marathon at a time when the marathon was a male-only event. She had signed up as K.V. Switzer and was issued a bib number (No. 261), although the Boston Athletic Association later said it was an “oversight” in the entry screening process, and she was treated as an interloper when the error was discovered on race day.

Co-race director Jock Semple famously tried to push her off the course during the race, but he was thwarted by her boyfriend and running partner Tom Miller and Switzer continued running. The incident made international headlines after Switzer became the first woman to finish the race (in about 4:20) with an official race bib and helped continue the movement to allow women to participate in running events and other sports. (Bobbi Gibb is credited as being the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon in 1966 when she snuck into the race and ran as an unregistered runner. The Boston Marathon didn’t allow women to officially enter until 1972.)

Next April, as part of the the B.A.A.’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration to honor women running pioneers, Switzer will lace up her shoes once again, pin on an official bib and run the 121st Boston Marathon. This time, she will be running with a team of women representing her new global non-profit, 261 Fearless, Inc.

“It is an honor and joy to participate in the 121st Boston Marathon,” said Switzer, who will turn 70 in January. “What was a dramatic incident 50 years ago when angry race co-director Jock Semple tried to throw me off the course for being a girl, became instead a defining moment for me and women runners throughout the world. The result is nothing less than a social revolution; there are now more women runners in the United States than men.”

Despite this inauspicious beginning, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) early on realized the seriousness of women’s desire to participate and the potential of their endurance. In 1972, five years after the “Switzer Incident,” the BAA welcomed women as official competitors. Switzer finished third in that race and would go on to run Boston eight times, posting her personal best of 2:51:37 in the 1975 edition. Boston was the first major marathon to admit women; its acceptance in 1972 helped open the floodgates for women’s participation globally.

“We are so pleased to welcome back Kathrine to the race which elevated and hastened the movement in women’s sports,” said B.A.A. President Joann Flaminio. “She has always been a fearless woman, and we look forward to concluding our year-long ’50 Years of Women at Boston’ celebration when we greet her at the finish line next April 17.”

RELATED: Recalling Bobbi Gibb’s Historic 1966 Boston Marathon

After an instrumental career of racing, event directing and television commentary—including 30 consecutive years of broadcasting Boston for local CBS affiliate WBZ-TV, Switzer decided to launch 261 Fearless, Inc., a global non-profit aimed to empower and connect women through running. Active communication platforms, a series of running clubs, events, training and merchandizing align to create a unique women’s community that helps them to overcome life obstacles and embrace healthy living. The community unites under the number, 261 which is the bib number Switzer boldly donned as she ran the Boston Marathon 50 years ago.

The B.A.A. has granted 261 Fearless a limited number of invitational bibs for the 2017 Boston Marathon to be used exclusively for fundraising purposes to further the mission and programs. The women who are accepted onto Team 261 Fearless will start the race with Switzer.

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