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Bobbi Gibb-The Woman Who Marathoned Before Us

In 1964, woman were only allowed to compete in races up to a mile and half. It was believed that woman did not have the physiology to run a distance further than 1.5 miles. That same year, Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb witnessed the Boston Marathon for the first time. She grew up outside of Boston in a suburb called Winchester and had been running since she was a young girl. She was 21 at the time and like most of us that make running a permanent part of our lifestyle she ran then and now out of love. Love for how it makes us feel physically, mentally and spiritually. Having never seen a race before, let alone run a race, she was drawn to the human spirit of the marathon. The marathon puts each runner through an emotional roller coaster that we continually want to buy an E ticket to ride again. We know we will experience an array of emotions throughout the course, we just don't know the order or intensity of the emotions. From the excitement and anxiety at mile zero, the self doubt or pride to plowing through our wall, to the elation of crossing the finish line and everything in between. Bobbi says, that "That afternoon, something inside me decided that I was going to run the Boston Marathon. It was an edict from my soul."

Bobbi started training for the Boston Marathon the very next day. This was a "Do It Yourself" training plan. She did not have a coach, let alone running shoes or a sports bra. At that time, shoe companies only sold men's running shoes. She instead ran in nurse shoes. The first modern sports bra wasn't even available until 1977. She instead ran in a one piece swimsuit. Like most first time marathoners she figured things out with each training run. She would focus on running further and further to get her prepared for the marathon distance.

In September of 1965, Bobbi ran up to 40 miles in one day at the Green Mountain Horse Association 100 Mile ride. This was a 3 day event in which the horses and riders would cover 40 miles on day 1, 40 miles on day 2 and 20 miles the last day. Bobbi was the only runner and finished day 1 not far behind the horses. The next day she woke up and ran 25 more miles! BOOM! And who said that women can only run a 1.5 miles?!

Fast forward to February 1966 and Bobbi mailed a request to the Boston Athletic Association for an entry into the 1966 Boston Marathon. The race director mailed a letter back to her denying her entry citing that the Amateur Athletic Association (then the governing body for marathons in the United States) prohibits women from racing further than a 1.5 miles and that woman aren't capable of running the marathon distance. They also did not want to take on the liability of a woman runner pushing this distance.

What do you do when someone tells you "No you can't" when your heart and soul tell you "Yes I can"? You find a way. That is what 23 year old Bobbi did. At the time she was living in California. She took a 3 day bus ride across the country to make it to Boston on marathon eve. She told her parents that night that she was going to run the marathon and they thought that she was delusional. Her mom eventually agreed to drive her to Hopkinton the next morning.

Bobbi hid in the bushes until about half the pack of runners passed by her. She could only imagine the consequences of being caught on the course. What weighed stronger was the consequences of not running on that course. To her surprise the other runners supported her. The woman of Wellesley College have probably never cheered as loudly and whole heartedly as they did on April 19, 1966. Just thinking about that powerful intersection makes me tear up.

To put things into perspective, I put the below comparison together of my 2017 Boston Marathon alongside Bobbi's 1966 Boston Marathon.

When I think of my experience at this year's Boston Marathon compared to Bobbi's experience at the 1966 race, I can't help but feel gratitude, respect and strength from the courage she taped in to to do something that only she believed in when the rest of the world was in full disbelief. Bobbi went on to run the Boston Marathon again in 1967 and finished ahead of Kathrine Switzer and also was the first woman to finish in 1968. The first "official" Boston Marathon female finisher was Nina Kuscsik. She won the race in 1972.

It was at this year's Boston Marathon Documentary premiere that I first met Bobbi. I thanked her for paving the way for us. I told her how much I love running too and that I want to share it with the world. So much so that I quit my 26 year career to coach full time. She re-iterated that we need to do what we love. It was at that meeting that I learned of Bobbi's latest "first". She has been commissioned by the 26.2 Foundation (a Hopkinton-based nonprofit that has helped install other marathon statues in and around Hopkinton) to create a sculpture of a life size woman runner. In addition to being a mother, athlete, author, attorney, ALS researcher, Bobbi is also an accomplished painter and sculptor. This sculpture will be the first sculpture on the Boston Marathon course of a woman. “For 50 years, it has been my dream to sculpt a life-size woman runner to represent all the fantastic women who have run Boston since 1966,” Gibb said. “I hope it will inspire girls and women to keep running strong.”

Please follow the link below to donate to the Bobbi Gibb Marathon Sculpture Project:

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