I have long admired the spirit and courage of Kathrine Switzer – who famously ran the Boston Marathon in 1967 despite the fact women weren’t allowed to race this distance. She escaped being bundled off the course part-way round and completed the race. Her achievement is the stuff of history for fearless females – be they runners or not. Her race number that day was 261 and she used this to create the identity of her 261 Fearless movement – a non-profit making women’s movement that focuses on the feeling of empowerment that running gives women.
So I was delighted to read in the guardian blog (written by the fantastically upbeat female runner and blogger Ronnie Haydon, aka Marathon Gran Writer @ronnie_haydon) that Switzer will mark the 50th anniversary of her first Boston Marathon achievement by running it this year at the age of 70. Hats off to her! Closer to home, 261 Fearless is partnering with the UK’s first ever women’s only trail run in Devon – the Woman Can trail marathon on May 28. Up to 300 women are expected to run or run/walk the distance. What a great idea.
Fearless females are a force to be reckoned with. You don’t have to change the world like Switzer (but if you’ve got the spark of an idea, I say run with it!). Just having the inner belief that you can do things that others might not think possible is hugely powerful.
I tapped into it in a big way as a teenager in the Army before running took over my life. I remember it all too well – back in the 80s and 90s a diminutive young female in the Army was no easy role. I knew I was every bit as fit as the men. But I also knew I had to be fitter than them to prove my worth. Replace the word ‘fitter’ for ‘better’ and that probably sounds familiar to quite a few women out there.
Well, the way I got around it was to give the Army experience all my focus and effort: sure they underestimated me. But only once. In my very own fearless female moment, I showed them I was every bit as fit as they were. And they never doubted me again. Had I doubted myself I may never had the courage to show my full potential.
Being a fearless female is not easy but the rise of female fitness campaigns, This Girl Can, girls-together events like Race For Life and trail blazers like Kathrine Switzer should give us all encouragement. And she’s absolutely right that running gives a sense of empowerment, achievement and a sense of self. It can be a steady mile running around the block, a 5K parkrun or a long-distance challenge you’re aiming for next. Whatever it is, do it. To feel fearless is to feel free. Have a go and let me know how you get on!