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Kathrine Switzer's Trailblazing Boston Marathon Run Was 50 Years Ago


Kathrine Switzer became an icon for athletes and women due not just to her running ability, but an incident during the 1967 Boston Marathon. Bettmann/Getty Images
Kathrine Switzer became an icon for athletes and women due not just to her running ability, but an incident during the 1967 Boston Marathon. Bettmann/Getty Images

In most major metropolitan areas in the United States today, it's common to see women running as exercise. And in competitive races like 5Ks, half-marathons and marathons drawing hundreds of thousands of female athletes across the globe, nearly half who participate are women. But it's easy here in the early 21st century to forget that that wasn't always the case, and even recently.

The Boston Marathon is one of the most prominent races in the United States. But back in the 1960s, women weren't allowed to compete. In fact, the longest official race that existed for female runners was the 800-meter race in the Olympics, only 1.9 percent of the 42,165 meters that make up a marathon.

But 50 years ago, a 20-year-old runner named Kathrine Switzer broke barriers. On April 19, 1967, she became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered, registered participant. And for five more years, there wouldn't be another.

Switzer registered under the gender-neutral moniker "K.V. Switzer," paid the $2 entry fee and was issued the official race number 261. At the time, women still weren't allowed to participate.
Switzer registered under the gender-neutral moniker "K.V. Switzer," paid the $2 entry fee and was issued the official race number 261. At the time, women still weren't allowed to participate.
Paul Connell/Boston Globe/Getty Images
At one point during the race, Boston Marathon official Jock Semple attempted to grab Switzer's number and physically remove her from the race, reportedly shouting, "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!"[
At one point during the race, Boston Marathon official Jock Semple attempted to grab Switzer's number and physically remove her from the race, reportedly shouting, "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!"[
Bettmann/Getty Images
The photos of Switzer avoiding Semple's attack with the help of friends and boyfriend Tom Miller (No. 390) took the spotlight in the national press.
The photos of Switzer avoiding Semple's attack with the help of friends and boyfriend Tom Miller (No. 390) took the spotlight in the national press.
Paul Connell/Boston Globe/Getty Images
Switzer wasn't the first woman to run the Boston Marathon  just the first to run it as an officially, if controversially, numbered entrant. The honor of the first to run the race goes to Bobbi Gibb, who first completed the marathon in 1966 and is pi...
Switzer wasn't the first woman to run the Boston Marathon just the first to run it as an officially, if controversially, numbered entrant. The honor of the first to run the race goes to Bobbi Gibb, who first completed the marathon in 1966 and is pi...
Janet Knott/Boston Globe/Getty Images
Switzer wasn't the first woman to run the Boston Marathon  just the first to run it as an officially, if controversially, numbered entrant. The honor of the first to run the race goes to Bobbi Gibb, who first completed the marathon in 1966, one year...
Switzer wasn't the first woman to run the Boston Marathon just the first to run it as an officially, if controversially, numbered entrant. The honor of the first to run the race goes to Bobbi Gibb, who first completed the marathon in 1966, one year...
John Tlumacki/Getty Images
After years of protest and negotiation, the Boston Athletic Association finally allowed women to enter the Boston Marathon in 1972; Kathrine Switzer crosses the finish line that year in this photo.
After years of protest and negotiation, the Boston Athletic Association finally allowed women to enter the Boston Marathon in 1972; Kathrine Switzer crosses the finish line that year in this photo.
Joe Dennehy/Boston Globe/Getty Images
Switzer, pictured in this 1980 portrait, ran many more marathons, even taking first place in the women's division at the New York Marathon in 1974.
Switzer, pictured in this 1980 portrait, ran many more marathons, even taking first place in the women's division at the New York Marathon in 1974.
S&G/PA Images Archive/Getty Images

Kathrine Switzer became a television sports commentator, work for which she won an Emmy Award. She also wrote a memoir and books for runners. On April 17, 2017, and at 70 years old, Switzer completed the Boston Marathon again, wearing bib number 261. The Boston Athletic Association announced it would retire the number 261 to honor her.