Fun Facts: Epic Women Legends – the First Women Boston Marathon Runners

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It’s the weekend and we’re in a celebratory mood. We’re always telling you that women rock and we’re coming through with even more proof! Here’s some inspiration to take you through the weekend. Check out two epic women in marathon history and tell us what you think!

Roberta Gibb (1942-)

Roberta Gibb was inspired to take up long-distance running by her boyfriend while in university. The 5-mile runs were tough at first but she soon began to conquer 8-mile runs. As her enthusiasm for running grew, some of my friends suggested that she watch the next Boston Marathon. She watched the race in 1965 from the sidelines and decided that she would build up her endurance to 26.2 miles.

Later that year, Gibb registered to run a 3-day, 100-mile race in Woodstock, Vermont. She ran 65 of the 100 miles but had to drop pout of the race due to excruciating pain in her knees. When she recovered, she continued to train for the Boston Marathon.

In its then-69-year history, the Boston Marathon had only had male runners. At the time, women were presumed to be unfit for running marathon distance because there was a belief that doing so would damage a woman’s reproductive health. Therefore, women were prohibited from taking part in any sports sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), which sponsored the Boston Marathon.

So Gibb decided she would run as a “bandit.“ These were runners who had not registered for the race and thus ran unofficially.

When the day of the marathon came, Gibb hid in the bushes and waited for the race to begin, then jumped into the race wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt with the hood covering her hair, disguising the fact that she was a woman. Eventually, some of the runners beside her realized that she was a woman and cheered her on. As the race continued, Gibb began to heat up, but was afraid to remove her sweatshirt and reveal her long hair and ultimate inform everyone around her that she was a woman. She feared that revelation would get her ejected from the race.

The men running beside her assured her that they would not allow her to be ejected so she removed her sweatshirt and revealed her ponytail and her black bathing suit underneath her baggy shorts. Gibb finished the race in 3 hours and 21 minutes, finishing 125th of 500 males.

There was a lot of media present and although many cheered, she was not given the recognition of completing the race. The most the BAA race director Will Clooney acknowledged was that Gibb had run the “same route” as the runners.

For the next two years, Gibb return to Boston to compete in the race as an unofficial runner and was ranked as the unofficial women’s winner in 1967 and 1968. She was unable to beat her first time.

Years later, Gibb was recognized by the BAA as the woman’s pre-sanctioned winner in the 1966 Boston Marathon.

Awards and recognition:

1966: First woman to run Boston Marathon, finishing in 3:21:40
1967: Finishes Boston Marathon in 3:27:17
1968: Finishes Boston Marathon in 3:30:00
1990: Named to Road Runner’s Hall of Fame
1996: Recognized by YWCA’s American Academy of Women Achievers
1996: Honoured at ceremony marking 30th anniversary of Boston win

In 2021, a bronze statue “The girl Who Ran” was unveiled at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Gibb’s honour to commemorate the achievements of women in marathon running.

Katherine Switzer (1947-)

Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967. She trained with a coach named Arnie Briggs, who trained the men’s cross country team at Syracuse University where she was a student. There was no women’s running team at the university, forcing Switzer to join the men’s team. Briggs had run 15 Boston marathons and told her lots of stories about the races he had participated in. His tales inspired Switzer, but when she mentioned her desire to run in the next Boston Marathon, Briggs wasn’t so sure it was a good idea. The distance was too long for women, he thought, but told her that if she could prove to him that she could run the distance during practice, he would take her to the Boston Marathon himself and run with her.

The pair set out on a 26-mile run three weeks prior to the marathon. Switzer wanted to be certain that she could handle the marathon and insisted they run an extra 5 miles. By the end of that trial race, Briggs was certain Switzer had what it took and insisted she sign up for the marathon. Nothing in the rulebook specifically stated that women could not register for the marathon, so Switzer signed up as “K.V. Switzer,” and paid her $3 entry fee.

The year before, in 1966, Roberta Gibb had been the first woman to compete in the Boston Marathon. But since she had not registered for the race, was therefore considered an unofficially contestant.

The day of the marathon came and Swizter insisted on wearing her lipstick as she usually did. Running beside Briggs and her boyfriend, the first part of the race went well. Then something unexpected happened. As she ran, a large man appeared out of nowhere and attacked Switzer, adamant that she did not belong in the race. He attempted to tear off the numbers pinned to her shirt and physically remove her from the race. The encounter was alarming but Briggs and Switzer’s boyfriend came to her defense. Her boyfriend, a football player, pushed the man to the ground. Switzer continued to run and finished the race in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Two years later, Switzer began to a campaign to allow women to officially register in long-distance races. By 1971, she had become the first woman to chair the USA Track and Field Long-distance Running District. In 1972, five years after Switzer officially ran in the Boston Marathon, the City of Boston decided to allow women into each field as long as they met the men’s qualifying time of 3 hours and 30 minutes. Eight women enlisted that year including Switzer, who finished third. Nina Kuscsik came out on top, finishing the race in 3 hours 10 minutes and 26 seconds.

Over the next years, women continued to make history in long distance running. In 1978, Grete Waitz ran her first marathon and finished with a world record of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds in New York! She went on to win eight more New York City Marathons.

Roberta Gibb and Kathrine Switzer are remembered as two women who endured public criticism and hostility because they challenged the status quo. They didn’t allow the disapproval of others stand in their way. Neither should you.

Because of these two epic women, this is what the Boston Marathon race looks like today:

Photo credit: Marcio Jose Bastos Silva /



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