A Monthly Publication from Citrin Consulting
The Marathon Woman
April | 2014


Courageous Leadership

TED Talks

Visit our Web Site

Visit Richard's Blog

Courageous Leadership

The Marathon Woman

This year's Boston Marathon may be the most important one ever, given the travails of last year's terrorist filled event. Boston Strong, as it has become known, will

celebrate the resilience and fortitude of that City by running the 118th running of that storied event. Forty-seven years ago, the race experienced a different kind of challenge and was one that changed it forever.

Katherine Switzer just liked to run and as a young journalism student at Syracuse University she decided that she would unofficially join the men's cross-country running team so she could get her miles in during the week. It was there where she met Arnie Biggs, a 50-year-old runner who also ran with the team and was a veteran of 15 Boston Marathons. As Ms. Switzer tells it in her autobiography, Marathon Woman, Arnie took her under his wing and regaled her with stories of famous Boston Marathons. After one snowy run in December 1966, she told him that she wanted to run the race.

Women were not allowed to run in the Marathon. Like other efforts to discriminate, the excuse that the race was too strenuous and dangerous for a women's body had been used for years.. During that time the longest sanctioned race for a woman was just 1 and 1/2 miles. Arnie told Katherine that he'd support her running the race if she could prove to him that she could be successful and after training all winter, they ran a practice 26-mile race three weeks before the Marathon. She felt so good running that distance that she told him she wanted to go on and they added another 5 miles to that practice session.

Katherine registered for the race as "K.V. Switzer" (a technique we saw being used by another Courageous Leader, Muriel Siebert) so as to keep her application gender neutral. As she and Arnie

prepared for the run, Kathy's college boyfriend and former all American football player Tom Miller decided to join the party and registered for the race as well.

The 1967 version of The Boston Marathon was scheduled for Patriot's Day, April 19th at noontime. Conditions were brutal with snow, freezing rain, sleet, and wind on tap for the runners. Arnie stopped off at the registrar's table and picked up Katherine's number, "261" which she proudly pinned to her sweatshirt.

As the race began, Katherine and her team were pleased to see that other runners acknowledged her and gave her a nod of support. Things began to change at around mile 4 when a media truck came up alongside of her and started taking pictures of the first officially registered woman in the Marathon. Soon, Katherine heard the sound of leather shoes coming up from behind her and she felt her shoulder being grabbed and tugged backwards. It was Jock Semple, the race coordinator who was determined to not let Katherine run the race and screamed at her "Get out of my race and give me those numbers." He might have succeeded in his attempts to get Katherine to pull over except for the effort of Katherine's boyfriend Tom, who laid a body block on Mr. Semple sending him down onto the curb.

With one issue out of the way, Katherine now had to deal with the press reporters throwing questions at her about why she was running the race and what she was trying to prove. She realized that her moment had arrived and her resolve and commitment to finish the race became stronger. Soon she was able to settle back into running and despite the physical pain that accompanies all marathoners, she and her team approached the finish line on Boylston Street in just about 4 hours and 20 minutes. She acknowledged the importance of her coach by letting Arnie finish just in front of her.

On the drive home to Syracuse, the team stopped for a gas and a bite to eat and a fellow traveller was reading a local newspaper. Katherine stopped and looked at it and splattered across the front and back pages were the story of the first woman to officially run in the Boston Marathon.

Like many of the courageous leaders we've profiled in this series, Katherine Switzer did not start off wanting to be heroic. She just wanted to do her thing, which in this case was to run. This year there will be a lot of people on that 26 mile 385 yard trail who just want to run and not have to make a social or political statement.

Sometimes, however, that is not an option.


Back to top

TED Talks

Human behavior is always fascinating and while this Ted Talk on the Art of Misdirection is a bit theatrical, its premise is sound and supports my belief that there is no such thing as multi-tasking. If there was then you'd have seen when Apollo Robinson changed his clothes right on stage.


Back to top

130 Chapel Harbor Dr | Pittsburgh, PA 15238 | 412.327.8744 | All Rights Reserved © 2014 Citrin Consulting