When I got my first job working for a Portland PR firm, I was lucky enough to hit the ground running, literally. One of my clients was Avon Running and Kathrine Switzer — the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a bibbed entry in 1967 — was the main spokesperson for the program. After being told that a marathon was too far for a “fragile girl” to run, Kathrine entered anyway. Luckily, a gender-neutral iteration of her name didn’t raise any eyebrows, since women were banned from the race, and she made it onto the course. A famous picture depicts a race official trying to rip her from the course, purportedly shouting “get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers [her bib number 261]!” But Kathrine’s running partner shoved him to the ground so she could complete the race. Afterwards, the Boston Athletic Association director mentioned that he would have “spanked that girl,” if she were his daughter.
Later, Kathrine went on to compete legitimately in the 1974 New York City Marathon. She won.
Last week was the 50th anniversary of the fated day when she first ran the Boston Marathon. Proudly wearing bib number 261, she competed once again and was honored when race directors retired her famed number.
What does this have to do with me? Well I ran with her, of course. Beyond selling lipstick and mascara, Avon has had stints of putting on 5K running and walking events for women across the country. But Avon’s focus wasn’t just on race day. The weekly training group for women who wanted an extra bit of accountability and camaraderie was a key part of the program. Kathrine came out to Portland to help us launch the training sessions and of course serve as my interview spokesperson. She kicked off the training sessions with motivating talks for women of all shapes and sizes — touching on the importance of simply moving each day, to “get off the couch,” and to “shuffle, walk, or run,” — whatever it takes.
Hanging out with Kathrine for the week was inspiring and motivating so I asked her to go running. Not to say that the times I spent running with her during the training runs weren’t real running. But group running isn’t really the same as a one-on-one jaunt through Forrest Park. I remember being a little nervous to run solo with her, afraid that I couldn’t keep her pace. But runners who have a connection run together.
Looking back, I feel that many of my greatest friendships have been established through exercise. There is nothing better than bonding over exercise, especially running. But throwing work into the mix is the ultimate for a woman who loves to work and especially likes to talk about work. In fact, the friendships that blossomed over sweat and pavement began at my first PR job, where Jenny Galitz McTighe and I would go running after work. Beyond learning the foundation of PR from her, Jenny taught me about the camaraderie of exercise. This was hard at first for a solo cross country runner to grasp. Then Alexa Shook Galluzzo and I would run in the early morning hours before starting work at my second PR job. Alexa was a runner. I mean she probably had coaches and stuff. She taught me how to keep a steady, impressive clip. I realized I’d just been messing around before. And today I have Trisha Highland. While we aren’t actually working at the same company, or even in the same field, we have so much to talk about. She’s operated and sold a couple of businesses and currently sells real estate — a topic I love, being a former Realtor, and now representing a real estate company and developer. Trisha and I hash out work problems, share our endlessly exciting new ideas — that we both non-judgmentally understand may or may not come to fruition — and strategize on finding balance while raising kids. Getting an outside opinion on clients and business operations during our sweat sessions is essential to me as a business owner today.
I must have been emulating Kathrine’s teachings all along. In Avon Running, she brought two things together that can provide great strength to women. Running and each other. Women have always battled inner and outer doubt in both athletics and business. Whether training for your first 5K or writing your first business plan, sometimes just a little bit of encouragement from the female variety is all that’s needed.
Today Kathrine empowers women through her charity, 261 Fearless, which is “a global community of women, be she a walker, jogger and runner, who have found strength, power and fearlessness by putting one foot in front of the other.” Aiming to provide a “safe and secure global running community for women, 261 Fearless empowers women to embrace the social and fun side of running so that they may give support to other women who want to become fearless through running.”
I’ve learned how to overcome by frequently running it out with a strong set of girlfriends and examining how those who’ve come before me have done it. They can rip off our bib numbers or decline our loan applications. We’ll pick ourselves up off the couch and put one foot in front of the other as we enter the road race or the rat race together.
Featured image courtesy of Recuerdos de Pandora, used via the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0