Told women can’t run marathons, she persisted

Kathrine Switzer talks with Ben Beach during a media availability Thursday near the Boston Marathon finish line. Beach is on the verge of becoming the first person to run the Boston Marathon 50 consecutive times if he completes the race on Monday. Switzer was the first woman with a bib issued by the Boston Athletic Association to finish the Boston Marathon in 1967. Stephan Savoia | AP

No runner in the Boston Marathon will ever again wear number 261. It has now been retired in honor of the person who once wore it.

You’ve come a long way, Boston Athletic Association, because this is what happened to Katherine Switzer when she wore it in 1967.

Paul J. Connell | Boston Globe, via Getty Images

Switzer wasn’t supposed to be in the race — only men were permitted to register — but she registered as “K.V” and got her bib, racing until Jock Semple, long-time B.A.A. boss, tried to wrestle her out of the race. She persisted, and finished the race.

In the process, she technically became the first woman to officially run the race. It would be five more years until the marathon allowed women to run.

This week, the B.A.A. “retired” the number in her honor, and on Monday she’ll run the the race on the 50th anniversary of her groundbreaking run. In its story today, the Boston Herald notes that the idea for the ’67 run came because her 50-year-old coach didn’t believe women were cut out to run marathons.

As they trained on the snowy streets of Syracuse, Switzer told Briggs that she wanted to run in Boston. In a line straight out of a “Rocky” script, the mailman retorted, “No dame ever ran no marathon.”

Switzer told him that Sports Illustrated wrote about Gibb’s 1966 run.

“He kept telling me the story of the Boston Marathon, and I finally said, ‘OK, let’s stop this and just run it,’ ” said Switzer. “He didn’t believe that Roberta actually ran it. He didn’t believe women were physically capable of running a marathon. So many people didn’t believe a woman was capable of doing it.”

Briggs finally relented, sort of. Switzer had to prove to him that she was up to the physical grind that the Boston course, especially, demanded.

“My ancestors were homesteaders. They arrived here in 1723,” she says now. “We didn’t back down.”

She’s 70 now and will set another mark on Monday. No woman has ever run a marathon 50 years after her first one.