Marathon Woman: Kathrine Switzer

Kathrine Switzer, a trailblazing female marathon runner, tells how running can transform women’s lives.

By Jennifer Fields

Kathrine Switzer stormed onto the sports scene in 1967, becoming the first woman to compete in the Boston Marathon. Just 20 at the time, Switzer had to fend off an official who literally tried to shove her off the course. She finished anyway — and went on to launch women’s running programs in 27 countries. Now married to another long-distance runner, she divides her time between New Zealand and New York. Her autobiography, Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports, is just out from Carroll & Graf.Q. What is it about running that gives women determination and confidence?A. Most of our lives we’re not in situations where we feel strong. But we realize through running that we are powerful and that we have stamina. While we’re running, there’s only one thing we focus on: the distance. The mind purges itself of everything else, giving us the chance to put things in perspective, maybe for the first time.Q. You’ve seen major advances in women’s sports. What still needs to change?A. Lots! Many countries — mostly Middle Eastern and some African — won’t send women to compete in the Olympics. Anita DeFrance [on the International Olympic Committee] is trying to make it mandatory for all participating countries to include women. Sports are an empowering vehicle. In Kenya, women runners go out and earn $100,000 in prize money, then go home and sanitize the water, inoculate kids, and build schools.Q. You’ve overcome so many obstacles. What challenges are you facing at 60?A. I can’t run 100 miles a week anymore. Now I’m looking at alternatives such as cycling, swimming, and gymnastics.Q. Many people say running is too hard. Why try it?A. Running a marathon is hard; just running is simple. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment and quickly delivers an incredible fitness benefit. You don’t have to go fast; you just have to get moving.Purchase Marathon Woman Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2007.

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