Maybe you’ve heard the story before; the legendary tale of the brave woman who broke the rules by racing the then men’s only 1967 Boston Marathon.
That woman was Katherine Switzer, and even 47 years after race officials tried to drag her off the Boston course she continues to shine as a women’s running icon by creating programs and initiatives to help offer more female athletes access to the sport.
In the past she’s pioneered projects like the Avon International Women’s Running Circuit, which urged the International Olympic Committee to include a women’s marathon event in the 1984 summer Olympics, and has become a well-known advocate through her successful career as a sports commentator and motivational speaker.
Her most recent effort to help expand and innovate women’s running comes in the form of a race series she named 261 Fearless; a marathon and 10K even to be held at the end of this month in Spain inspired by her legendary Boston bib number and a passion for empowering women.
Switzer’s website reads:
This marathon is named after my famous bib number in the 1967 Boston Marathon; the number I kept and finished the race with despite an angry official who tried to pull it off of me. The number 261 has come to mean fearless in the face of a challenge, and this marathon will present a challenging, aspirational, empowering and welcoming opportunity to women everywhere because We Know About Challenge! We changed women’s lives in 1967 and we will continue to do it.
261 Fearless is more than just a race, though. Switzer is working with women around the world to create a running network of sorts. It will be called Club 261 and it’s Switzer’s hope that members will use it to collaborate with other local runners and even interact with other chapters on a global scale.
According to Running USA’s 2012 State of the Sport report, 56% of race finishers were women that year. But in other parts of the world like Europe and South America, female runners make up much less of the pack and often don’t have many long-distance races available to them.
“A 261 Woman is a woman who gets it,” Switzer wrote on her blog. “She’s a woman who knows that what we do is more than about running and fitness; it’s about changing women’s lives– our own, and others’. A 261 woman does not sit on her hands when there is a need, an opportunity to help or a challenge; she takes action.”