Marathon Woman: Katherine Switzer [5/9]

How did you come across the book?

I was introduced to this book by the Ironman Hall of Fame Legend Kenneth Gasque. Kenneth was surprised and disappointed that as a female athlete I had didn't know the story of Katherine Switzer. I am grateful too Kenneth for helping me to know her name and can only hope I can pass influence forward.

What is the book about?

On Wednesday April 19, 1967 Katherine Switzer started a revolution in women's sport by toeing the line as number 261 and the first registered female to run the Boston Marathon.

It seems unjust to limit what can be taken away from this book into one single paragraph, but predominantly it is about the (now) incomprehensible and momentous events that unfolded over those 42kms, unwavering self belief and how one individuals tireless efforts mean that everyday millions of women are free to lace up their running shoes and hit the trails.

What is your favourite quote or passage from the book?

“We were afraid we'd get big legs, grow moustaches, not get boyfriends, not be able to have babies. Women thought that something would happen to them, that they'd break down or turn into men, something shadowy, when they were only limited by their own society's sense of limitations.”

What are your three key takeaways?

  • We all stand on the shoulders of others: When Katherine Switzer started running technical women's running gear didn't exist, women's running shorts didn't exist, women's running shoe's didn't exist. That women ran a marathon with a pair of gardening gloves! The freedom and accessibility to run that we have today is because women like Katherine Switzer faced adversity, extreme sexism and still persevered until the unthinkable became the normal.

  • You will face criticism. Tune it out: When Katherine started running she was told that it was biologically impossible for a women to run a marathon and if by some great miracle she made it she could expect a moustache and infertility to follow. The strength of Katherine's self-belief drowned out naysayers, hate-mail and societal narratives for her entire career.

  • Choose your team carefully: A part of the story that receives significantly less attention is a moment when Katherine's (then) husband Tom asks her "Walk with me a little". Following an altercation with a race official (pictured above), Tom is scared that he has ruined his reputation for Katherine's sake and refuses to run with her, taking off into the crowd of runners ahead. Later in the race Katherine catches up with (a now walking) Tom and as she passes, he says ' Stay and walk with me a little - I would never leave you'. Thankfully she chooses her goals, over his ego, and goes on to finish the Boston Marathon with the rest of her team.

Thank you Katherine Switzer.

Read it. Send it. Gift it.

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