(From left: Edith, Beatrice, Ronnie, Miriam, Kathrine, Juliet, Sonia and Astrid)
If you’re a woman, and you like running, the name Kathrine Switzer may well mean something to you. Perhaps the number 261 rings some bells too. The name and number caused a massive kerfuffle in the running world in the 1960s, and the continuing influence of both on women’s running is being celebrated in a campaign launched by Kathrine Switzer, which she’d like to share with all of you.
KW Switzer was the unisex name Kathrine registered on her entry form for the Boston Marathon in 1967. In those days, women weren’t allowed to run further than 10k, because the (male) Powers That Were reckoned going further would make their wombs drop out (at least they cited female gynaecology and perceived frailty as a reason for their denying women the joy of competitive distance running). Having trained hard for the race, she lined up in her grey tracksuit on a freezing, wet Boston day and set off on the gun. A couple of mile in, some officials noticed her, tried to run her off the track and forcibly remove her number (261). Her then boyfriend sent the jobsworths flying, and she continued, shaken and anxious, to finish the 26.2 miles. Thus began a campaign to open up the marathon distance to both sexes, which was achieved while achieving a marathon personal best of 2 hours and 51 minutes.
An award winning sports journalist, race organiser and all-round influencer, Kathrine Switzer continues to campaign for women’s rights, which is where her 261 Fearless campaign comes in. It came first to global attention at the end of last March, when she launched the first ever 261 Women’s Marathon in Mallorca. I, along with many women from across the world, ran the race. Kathrine was at the finish line, and made a point of hugging every single woman who crossed it. It was a fantastic run, taking in the beautiful seafront and the sights of Palma. Finishers received an elegant pearl medal, there were flowers everywhere, even in the fragrant portaloos (thoughtfully equipped with tampons).
Next year, the 261 Women’s marathon takes place on International Women’s Day, 8 March, in Palma, Mallorca. We’re all booking our tickets now. I’ve been training for the Virgin London Marathon six weeks later, so I may decide to run the 261 10K race, which takes place on the same day, in the same place.
Even if a March run in Mallorca is a step too far in your running schedule, you can be a part of Kathrine’s 261 Fearless Campaign, launched to reach out to women everywhere. She learned how running can set you free at a very tender age, when her father suggested she run a mile every day to become strong and swift enough to make the school hockey team. Like many beginners, she found running non-stop for this huge distance left her red-faced, jelly legged and utterly hooked. She ran that mile, every day and has been a strong, confident runner ever since. She says that running gave her
‘A sense of empowerment that no-one could take away from me.’
Many of us, who run with, or coach, all-women groups can vouch for the fact that just meeting up with other likeminded souls creates a bond. We help eachother, we grow in confidence as we train. The best groups attract women of all ages, all shapes, all levels of fitness: with our love of running, we are all speaking the same language. Kathrine wants women who may struggle to be heard to use running as a means of communication. She writes
‘261 clubs, events, charms, and even simple messages are being started as a way to reach out to women– many of whom live in fearful situations, and need fearless friends.’
Do you want to join in? Find out more at www.261wm.com