Exclusion zone


These women can (photo by Horst von Bohlen)

Last week I wrote for  The Guardian running blog about the inaugural 261 Fearless marathon on 28 May 2017, in Tipton St John, a beautiful corner of Devon. In it, the connection between the second all-women marathon to take place in this country, and the woman who changed the face of distance running for women, Kathrine Switzer, is explained.

The illustration that always accompanies any piece of writing about the great Ms Switzer (marathon PB, 2 hours 51 minutes) is a three-part black and white sequence of the then 20-year old, wearing a delightfully baggy grey tracksuit with the number 261 pinned to it. The year was 1967. At that time women were not allowed to run further than 1500 metres because they were considered too delicate for the task. Kathrine and her indomitable coach, Arnie the postman, both decided to enter the all-male Boston Marathon (the most prestigious road marathon, then and now). Registered as K Switzer, and with no question asked on her form about her gender, Kathrine got to the starting line on time, but was almost manhandled off the course a few miles in. Fortunately, she was also running with her husky young hammer-thrower of a boyfriend, who barged harder into the official barging Kathrine, resulting in his exclusion from the Amateur Athletic Union.

Researching the piece was a perfect excuse to re-read one of my favourite books about running – Marathon Woman – by Kathrine Switzer. I love the description of her training regimes, workload, and her honest, if disappointing in these enlightened times, recollection of the way she needed to seek approval from men, or at least work along the line of least resistance, to make things happen. Sometimes it’s hilarious, such as her brilliant description of putting together running outfits for her marathon appearances (she lost about 10 minutes during one hot Boston, having to perform urgent costume changes in some public lavatories, but she still ran the race in around three hours).

Another reason I am still reading inspiring books about running, when I should be out there running, is because I am still grounded by Achilles/shin inflammation and unable to run three miles without pain.

So that’s my 2017 London Marathon dream over. I am reading my fellow runners’ social media posts about their long runs, intervals, training race triumphs and disasters, massages and mileage and unable to join in. Soon I will pull mysef together, but not until I’ve re-read Kathrine’s 6-month training plan that constituted her campaign for a sub- three-hour in Boston, 1975.

I have six months to heal, rehab and prepare for my putative sub 3.40 Berlin Marathon.



1 thought on “Exclusion zone

  1. DrJuliet

    I’m re-reading that book too and so enjoying it. I feel for you with your injuries. I would be the most dreadful patient if it was me. Heal up soon and thank you for your wonderful writing x


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