Kathrine Switzer is wearing bib No. 261 in the Boston Marathon on Monday morning. It’s the same number a race official famously tried to rip from her shirt 50 years ago, when Switzer became the first woman to officially take part in the competition.
After Monday, no one will wear that number in the Boston Marathon again. It will be retired in Switzer's honor.
In 1967, Switzer was a 20-year-old journalism student at Syracuse, N.Y., who decided it was about time a woman officially ran the iconic race — Roberta Gibb did it a year earlier but didn’t actually register for the event and kept her gender a secret by wearing a hooded sweatshirt at the beginning of the race.
Switzer registered using her initials rather than her first name, but unlike Gibb she wore lipstick and earrings while running to make sure everyone knew a woman was out there competing with the men.
Race director Jock Semple knew. A few miles into the run, Semple chased down Switzer and attempted to take away her official race number.
"Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I'd ever seen,” Switzer wrote in her memoir. “A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, 'Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!'"
With some fellow racers running interference, Switzer persevered and finished the race in four hours, 20 minutes. She went on to become an accomplished marathon runner, winning the 1974 New York City Marathon and finishing second in the 1975 Boston Marathon.
Eight years ago, she started running marathons again after a break of almost 30 years. Monday will be her first time running the Boston Marathon since 1976.
“I’m not worried about the physicalness of my capability,” she recently told the Boston Globe. “What I’m worried about — outside of an injury or something out of the blue — but what I do worry about is being tired.”
Switzer posted videos on Facebook while running in Monday’s race, including one from the spot where Semple attempted to remove her number all those years ago.
She signs off in that one with, “Have fun; be fearless.”
Switzer finished this year’s race in 4:30:50, just 10 minutes off her time from 1967.
In the years that have passed since her first Boston Marathon, that original Bib number that Semple was unable to tear away has come to stand for quite a lot. In 2012, Switzer helped start 261 Fearless, a foundation focused on empowering women through running.
After that, according to the Globe, a fan pointed out to Switzer that two-six-one is fitting because at 26.1 miles, a runner knows she will be able to finish the 26.2-mile race.
“And then the Title IX people called up and said, ‘Oh, we love 2-6-1. It adds up to Title IX!’ ” Switzer said.
The top right corner may be missing from that 50-year-old Bib — Semper was able to get a piece of it — but Switzer still has the rest of it.
“I have it hidden in my house,” Switzer told the Globe. “No, you would never find it. My house is a mess.”