Community “Women are Unbelievable.” Kathrine Switzer on International Women’s Day.

    “Women are Unbelievable.” Kathrine Switzer on International Women’s Day.


    Kathrine Switzer has done more for women in running than arguably anyone else in our sport. Overcoming a tackle from the Boston Marathon race director in 1967, she became the first woman with a bib to complete that race and led the way not only for women to participate in North America’s most prestigious running event, but also pioneer women’s only races and help get the women’s marathon into the Olympic Games. Today, as the founder of 261 Fearless, which empowers women through running around the world, Switzer, at 77, is as active as ever. “I feel terrific,” she told iRun in an exclusive interview for International Women’s Day ahead of her appearance at the Toronto Marathon in May, where she plans to run the 10K and sign as many autographs as humanly possible. “I feel honoured and empowered after nearly sixty years to still be fighting for a righteous cause.” 

    iRun: Happy International Women’s Day. What’s your take on the state of the world? 

    Kathrine Switzer: Optimistic, always optimistic, but there’s still a lot of work ahead. 

    iRun: Like what? 

    KS: Women are still hampered unfairly by domestic responsibility—with their kids, with their work, with the dog—and we’re worried about going outside to run at 4 or 5 in the morning or alone at night, running in the dark alone is still a dangerous thing. 

    iRun: The world is still screwed up. 

    KS: It’s genuinely dangerous, and that’s intimidating and keeps women out of running, but what I am pleased about is that my organization 261 Fearless addresses all of that and we bring women together in a group in a non-judgmental fashion. 

    iRun: What do you mean?

    KS: We don’t care how fast or slow, how fat or thin, how old or young you are, we just want to reach out to women, everywhere, because we know how good running is for our mental health. Mental health is the number one benefit for everyone—but I’m looking at women—with running. 

    iRun: You were 20-years-old when you ran Boston in 1967. Could you have known it would change the trajectory of your life? 

    KS: Absolutely not. I just wanted to run! 

    iRun: So what happened? 

    KS: After the official tried to throw me out of the race—and I mean physically, pick me up and tackle me—I forgave him. Now, I could’ve murdered him when it happened, but I forgave him around Heartbreak Hill. I knew he was a product of his time, that’s all he knew so that’s how he thought about women.

    iRun: Right. 

    KS: Then I got angry at other women. Why was I the one out here on my own being the one to participate? But that wasn’t right either. I kept running. Then I got angry at myself. I realized other women didn’t have the opportunities I did. I understood that if I could create an opportunity for other women, that would be powerful. That could change things. 

    iRun: So what did you do?

    KS: I dedicated my life to it. 

    iRun: Incredible. So how did you do that? 

    KS: It started with the women’s only races that I organized. We needed safe spaces and I brought in major sponsorships to that, it was empowering but still not enough. So I got women into the marathon in the Olympic Games, 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. Fabulous, right? 

    iRun: It’s so amazing to me that it only happened in 1984. That you helped make that happen. In Canada, we have such great female Olympians, from Malindi Elmore to Natasha Wodak to Krista DuChene, and so many more. 

    KS: See, that’s great and great for our sport and women need heroes, but that still impacted only the elites. I wasn’t reaching the women stuck at home afraid to go out the door because they felt they were too fat or burdened with the kids, or were poor, or maybe suffering from domestic abuse—I wanted to reach women who needed a friend. 

    iRun: Why? 

    KS: I knew running could empower us. And empowerment is a tremendous thing. 

    iRun: What’s your relationship with Canada and the Toronto Marathon?

    KS: I’ve had a love affair with Canada since way back in 1967, after I was expelled from the American Athletic Federation, the Canadians invited me to come up and run with them when I needed someone the most. As for the Toronto Marathon, I’ve known Jay [race director Jay Glassman] since forever. I’m looking forward to coming back up there and running his race and seeing lots of old friends.      

    iRun: What do you think your legacy will be after you’ve run your last race? 

    KS: I won’t know until it all comes to fruition, but I think it’s 261. That is where we’ve been able to do the most good.  

    iRun: I understand your racing again. How do you feel at 77 years young? 

    KS: Absolutely terrific. 

    iRun: Absolutely? 

    KS: Personally, I’m a little frayed around the edges, I’ve taken some hits. I had shingles which devastated me for two years and broke my back jumping off a diving board and took a hard fall running and got vertigo, but these things happen. 

    My wife posing for a photo with Kathrine Switzer

    iRun: These things happen?

    KS: Listen, two weeks ago I ran my fastest 10K in ten years. You can’t be defined by little setbacks.

    iRun: You’re the best. 

    KS: I know I’m on the right trajectory and women and our empowerment and transformation is always sustaining. That’s what enlightens me and drives me forward.  

    iRun: How come? 

    KS: Women are unbelievable.


    1. I had the chance to meet Katherine Switzer during my very first marathon in Toronto in 2000. Toronto was also my first half marathon race. That was way back when it was the Toronto International Marathon. Katherine just had a book release and she, as well as her husband and Bill Rogers signed my copy of the book. I have had the opportunity to meet Katherine several times at the Boston Marathon expo. She is always very positive, very accommodating, and listens to everyone’s stories.

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