To many, Boston Billy was the laid back face of seventies running, just a guy who loved to run and happened, through hard work and a whole heck of a lot of miles, to get really good at it. But there was more to the glory days of running than short shorts and awesome wool hats. Some, runners, like the legendary Katherine Switzer,
Katherine Switzer was one of the women who broke the gender barrier in the marathon in the 1960s, her achievement changed the face of running in the 1970s proving once and for all that woman could run the marathon distance. Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, finishing the 1967 race in a time of roughly 4:20. Roberta Gibb, about whom I will write more some other time, had run the race the previous year unofficially finishing in a time of 3:21:40. Switzer entered the race with the ambiguous name of “K.V. Switzer” and was well on her way to finishing before the race director Jock Semple figured out she was a woman. Semple did a lot of great work keeping the Boston marathon alive through periods of low interest in the sport, but he was also a sexist who freaked when he discovered a woman was running in his race, and tried to pull Switzer from the course. Physically. When he went to grab Switzer, he was stopped by Switzer’s boyfriend, Tom Miller. The photo of this altercation is one of the most famous in marathoning:
Switzer escaping the clutches of Jock Semple, with some help from Tom Miller, photo: AP
Hard to tell here if Switzer was a heel striker, or just off balance from the hit by Semple.
Switzer didn’t stop at being the first woman to run Boston, she went on to have a long and storied career in running, capping it off with a win in the 1974 New York Marathon in a time of 3:07:29. Check out her website here.
Nice work Katharine, on shattering the gender divide in endurance sports and dropping an hour and ten minutes off your marathon time!