Kathrine Switzer signed up for the marathon in 1967 using her initials, as women had never previously competed in the event
On Monday morning, Kathrine Switzer approached the two-mile mark on the Boston Marathon course, and though there were many more to go, she’d already hit a personal milestone.
The 70-year-old was the first woman to ever run the marathon with a bib back in 1967 – albeit controversially.
At the time, women did not participate in the annual race, despite there being no written rules against it, according to CNN.
Switzer entered under her initials, K.V., keeping her gender ambiguous. On race day, though, Switzer says she wasn’t attempting to hide her femininity. She told CNN she put on lipstick and earrings, but was forced to cover up in sweatpants due to the temperature.
It was near that two-mile line that Switzer was confronted by the race director Jock Semple, who physically tried to stop the then-20-year-old. The moment was captured on camera, the image now iconic – as well as Switzer’s number, 261.
“Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I’d ever seen. A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers,'” Switzer described in her memoir, according to CNN.
Switzer’s then-boyfriend pushed Semple away, and Switzer continued the race, finishing in four hours and 20 minutes.
“I realized that if I quit this race, which I felt for a split second like doing because I was so scared and embarrassed, if I quit that race, nobody would’ve believed women deserved to be there or that they could do the distance,” she told the Boston Globe this year.
Though Switzer was disqualified after finishing, public uproar eventually lead to the formal inclusion of women. She went on to win the New York City Marathon in 1974, and the year after came in second in the Boston Marathon, according to the Globe.
Monday marked Switzer’s first return to the Boston race since 1976. She was joined by a team of over 100 women from her running organization 261 Fearless, which encourages and empowers females to take up the sport and stay active.
Switzer regularly checked in with her fans through Facebook live videos while competing on Monday.
Sharing a team photo ahead of the start, Switzer wrote, “Today is the race of my life.”
“After all the marathons I’ve run, this may be the most important of all,” she said. “Who would have imagined, 50 years later and still toeing the line! What a privilege to be here, to even have the opportunity to try. Even though this is going to be hard, I’m the luckiest woman in the world to be here, surrounded by 261 Fearless friends and supporters.”