Marathon Woman Book Review
by Kathrine Switzer
This autobiography was republished in 2017 to celebrate the 50th year of Kathrine Switzer’s run in the Boston Marathon when it was a men’s only race.
I was aware, like many others, of the basic facts of Kathrine’s story. How in 1967 she ran the Boston Marathon having entered under the name K. Switzer. The photos of the race director, Jock Semple, trying to pull her off the course are so familiar to most people who know anything about the marathon.
But that is basically all I knew! The book does an amazing job in filling in all the details of how Kathrine trained and built up to the race and all that she did to promote Woman’s running especially in campaigning to get it added as an Olympic event.
The book is so easy to read and page after page I found myself amazed that all this took place within my lifetime. I’m part of the ultra scene where it is just taken for granted that woman compete in races along men.
This year I helped support runners doing the Hardmoors 200 and there were a number of women who completed that race successfully. And that is only the tip of the distances that men and women are completing these days.
What I didn’t realise as well is that masters men were considered too old to compete in the marathon.
‘The Masters runners were important because their development are not dissimilar to the women’s, and we were very supportive of one another. We were pioneers in breaking down gender restrictions in running, and they were pioneers in breaking down barriers of aging.’ (page 182)
The book is divided into six sections ..
Part I: Base
The first five chapters tell Kathrine’s story of her childhood, family and love of running from an early age.
Part II: Build-Up
The next five chapters show how Kathrine trained and built up for the marathon. I wasn’t sure how she ended up on the start line before I read this book but now I do! She trained and trained hard and was well prepared to run the marathon distance.
Kathrine ran regularly with an experienced runner, Arnie, who passed on his many stories of running the Boston Marathon. In those days in the sixties it was a very small event made up largely of elite faster runners.
The chapters on the race itself were excellent and even though I knew she had finished it was riveting to follow her journey and all she had to go through to get to that finish line.
Plus once she had finished the media attention on her was enormous and how she dealt with that is again really interesting and insightful.
Part III: Sharpening
The rest of the book is Kathrine’s story for the next 50 years. I didn’t know any of this so it was fascinating to follow her story of her career both professionally as a sports journalist in a male dominated industry and her running as a runner and also as a race organiser.
Runners today, especially women and older men, have so much to thank Kathrine and others for. They worked hard and broke down so many barriers and obstacles so we can enjoy the events we take for granted.
Slowly but surely woman were allowed to run Marathons and other key races throughout America and the world.
Part IV: Warm-Up
Kathrine’s big goal was to see the Woman’s Marathon in the Olympics. This was her life’s goal really and the chapters in this part show just how hard she had to work to make it happen.
The key was her involvement with the Avon International Marathon who Kathrine worked for. They organised Woman’s races around the world which was a key factor in the Olympic committee allowing the Marathon into the Olypmics.
Part V: The Race
The key to it all was the Avon International London Marathon in 1980. This was a year before Chris Brasher organised the first official London Marathon.
Kathrine’s event was the first marathon around the streets of London which paved the way for Chris Brasher’s event but was absolutely key for seeing the Woman’s Marathon in the Olympics.
The Avon Marathon was the final event of a series of Marathon’s around the world so fulfilled the key criteria for the Olympics that a new sport had to be contested on three continents and twenty-five countries.
Part VI: Breakthrough
Kathrine and all those who campaigned with her were finally able to get approval for the Woman’s Marathon to be held in Los Angeles in 1984.
I remember that race well as Jean Benoit in her white cap ran off the front of the field and won convincingly against lots of stronger and faster runners. It was a great performance and showed that the event was here to stay.
The final chapter is a collection of other people who were involved in that 1967 Boston Marathon and helps to see the impact that Kathrine had that day and over the years that followed.
As you can tell I really enjoyed the book and would recommmend it to everyone who loves the Marathon!