‘Never too old to be an athlete’: Husband and wife running icons join Marine Corps Marathon weekend

WASHINGTON — Running is about putting one foot in front of the other, no matter your age, say Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson — a husband and wife team known to many as royalty in the running world.

In 1967, Switzer, now 71, became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. She was nearly tackled midrace by its director for competing at a time when women were barred from the race.

Her husband, 79-year-old Roger Robinson — a masters running pro, running journalist and author — represented England and New Zealand in world championships, set masters marathon records at Boston and New York, and won his age division after a knee-replacement. And he already has running goals after a recent second knee replacement.

“You’re never too old to be an athlete, you’re never too old to try. You’re never too big or too slow or too out of shape to put on a pair of sneakers and start moving,” Switzer said. “And the more you move, the better your health is going to be.”

The couple, who once rooted for Marine Corps Marathon runners when they lived in Vienna, Virginia, is returning as celebrity guests for the 2019 race weekend. This year, they are bringing a message of perseverance and resilience that transcends the sport.

Switzer earned running icon status through her famed 1967 Boston Marathon run. Despite that fact that women weren’t permitted to run, she trained for the race and signed up for under her initials “K.V. Switzer” — “not to defraud the officials, that’s the way I signed my name,” she said.

About a mile and a half in to the marathon, race official Jock Semple saw Switzer running and grabbed her; he tried to pull her off the course and rip off her bib, the number 261, she recalled. That’s when her then-boyfriend Tom Miller, who was running alongside her, rammed Semple, pushing him to the pavement and allowing Switzer to carry on with the race.

Kathrine Switzer, the first official woman entrant in the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, smiles during a news conference, Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Boston, where her Bib No. 261 was retired in her honor by the Boston Athletic Association. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

“It was a moment that really not only changed my life, but changed millions of women’s lives because it really inspired me for change and to create opportunities for women in running,” she said. “I must say, I’m really kind of happy that the worst thing in my life became the best thing in my life because I was able to help get the women’s marathon into the Olympics games, make more women runners in the United States than men … and spearhead a global movement where women are facing their fearlessness simply by putting one foot in front of the other.”

Switzer has formed a nonprofit organization, 261 Fearless — named after her Boston bib number — that empowers women through running. A D.C.-area chapter will be running in the Marine Corps Marathon race on Sunday.

“I suddenly realized that people were relating to a story about being told ‘you’re not good enough, you don’t belong, you’re not welcome, you’re too fat, you’re not really an athlete.’ All those things we’ve heard all of our lives. And then they start running and they can do it and they feel fearless and they know they can do anything,” she said.

Enthusiasm for running has been one of the keys to longevity in Robinson’s career, too.

“I just always loved it. I loved the process, I loved the competition, I loved the sheer joy of going out running,” said Robinson, who ran his marathon personal best in his 40s — a time when most runners are on the decline.

He never saw a reason to stop running — even after a knee replacement in 2011 that was supposed to have ended his running career. Another knee replacement doesn’t dampen his spirits either. He said he hopes to be out competing again in another year with his sights set on the 2020 World Masters Championships in Toronto.

The couple is among a group of “pioneers in pushing back the aging barrier through physical activity,” Switzer said.

While they won’t be running in the Marine Corps Marathon this weekend, they will be attending several events. They will be at the expo at the Gaylord Resort and Conference Center, speaking, selling and signing their most recent books, as well as the Carbo Dining In event the evening before the race.

Both Switzer and Robinson, who have been married more than 30 years, remind Marine Corps Marathon runners to have focus and purpose, and enjoy a race Robinson called “an amazing, superbly well-organized and scenically colorful race.”

“Just enjoy that experience of taking part in something completely peaceful and completely communal and that is being done with the support of the military,” he said. “That combination is something that I think is really appealing and important.”

Sarah Beth Hensley

Sarah Beth Hensley is the Digital News Director at WTOP. She has worked several different roles since she began with WTOP in 2013 and has contributed to award-winning stories and coverage on the website.

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