You Won't See The Number 261 At The Boston Marathon Anymore, For This Important Reason

It's been 50 years since Kathrine Switzer made history.

The Boston Marathon retired bib number 261 this week, 50 years after history was made at the race.

In 1967, despite her coach's insistence that women were too "weak" and "fragile" to run long distance, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer signed up to run in the Boston Marathon under the name K.V. Switzer. She was accepted, and soon became the first woman to officially compete in the race. (Bobbi Gibb, the first female finisher, ran unregistered.) 

When race official Jock Semple realized a woman was competing, he tried to take Switzer's bib number and remove her from the race. Photographs of the incident have become an iconic representation of women's struggle for equality, in sports and beyond.


This year, 70-year-old Switzer returned to the marathon, taking only about 24 minutes longer to finish than she did five decades ago. One day later, the Boston Athletic Association retired the number 261 in her honor. The only other number to be retired is 61, in honor of Johnny Kelley, who started the race a record 61 times.

"It's beyond me; it's the number now," Switzer reportedly said at the ceremony. "We can make it happen through running. The number now stands for all of those things."

In the years since Switzer's history-making run, she's continued to empower women in sports, helping get female runners get accepted into more marathons and organizing women's races. Switzer also played a part in finally getting the women's marathon included in the Olympics in 1984. She founded the nonprofit 261 Fearless, a community of women runners, and more than 100 members joined Switzer in this year's race.

A lot has changed since 1967. This year, the marathon reportedly included 11,973 female finishers. Not so fragile after all.


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