Take That, Jock Semple!

By Ali Fornash


With the recent coverage of the Boston Marathon, a lot of media channels were briefly touching on the fact that April 16th, 2012 marked only the 40th year that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon as registered racers. The very first Boston Marathon was run in 1897 and the first time women were allowed to officially participate was 1972. It ONLY took 75 years. The reasoning behind banning women was that there was a belief that the female body couldn’t handle the wear and tear that a marathon inflicts. This was not unique to the Boston Marathon; women weren’t allowed to race in a long distance running competitions including the Olympics. I mean come on, we only carry and bear children but how would possibly handle 26.2 miles of distance.

As a woman, a Bostonian and a marathoner this is insane me. I am not saying 26.2 is a piece of cake. I will speak from experience and say it is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. It requires a person to dig down so deep into him or herself and pull through.  Thankfully myself and other female runners had pioneers such as Roberta Gibbs and Katherine Switzer to lead the way for us. For most distance runners running Boston in the ultimate dream, I know it is one of mine. Gibbs and Switzer are household names for all women with the dream of Boston. Here is a little brief history for those unfamiliar with these brave ladies.

In 1966, Roberta Gibbs wanted to run Boston but obviously wasn’t allowed to. So she hid in the bushes by the start line and waited for all of the runners to take off before jumping into the race. She ran it “bandited”, which means without a number or bib. Not only did she complete the full Boston Marathon route, but also did it in an impressive time of 3:21:40.

The following year Katherine Switzer committed what is now knows as the “Boston Incident”. She registered for the race but didn’t use her actual name, nor did she lie. She simply registered as “K.W. Switzer”. She showed up at the race, number pinned to her chest and lined up with all the men. She managed to run the race without being noticed until the halfway mark. Once word got out that a women as managed to break into the Boston Marathon a media extravaganza ensued. The officials were so angry that one official, Jock Semple, actually tried to chase Katherine down and rip her number off of her to remove her from the race. But….she out ran him! She crossed the finish line in 4:20:00, and later when on to win the New York City Marathon a few years later in 1974. Unfortunately, it did take about another 5 years after the “Boston Incident” before women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon as official participants.

While watching the elite women cross the finish line on Monday I couldn’t help but feel grateful. I remember watching women cross the marathon finish as a little girl on my dad’s shoulders and thinking how amazing they were. Not knowing that just 10-15 years before that women were not even allowed numbers.  I am grateful that I never knew a time where women weren’t allowed to take part in distance running. I am grateful for the women that came before me and I am hopeful for the ones that will come after me. This sport has taught me so much about myself and I am so grateful that my nieces and my future daughters and granddaughters won’t be denied that privilege. So before I get all “girly and emotional” about my love for distance running I will say this, don’t ever tell a women she can’t do something because she will prove you wrong. Take that, Jock Semple.


Never underestimate the strength of a woman.

Never f@#k with one who runs 26.2 miles for fun.


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