Updated: Oct 31
Many are asking this question. What does 261 refer to? Does it have any significance?
Actually, it does!
A kind of symbolique one. But also a kind that makes the world a better place for women to live in.
1967, Boston Marathon
Kathrine Virginia Switzer is 20 years old. She runs, but never had the opportunity to participate in the marathon. The Boston Marathon is not open to women, for the official reason that “women were physiologically incapable of running 26 miles”.
She had first to convince her coach, Arnie Briggs, that she was capable of running the distance in practice. Once she did, he agreed to take her to Boston. Indeed, even if the rules did not stipulate that the entrance was forbidden to women, none of them ever managed to get an official registration.
Switzer registered by using her official AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) number and signed her name with the initials K.V. Switzer, thus hiding her gender. She got the entry number 261.
April 17, during the marathon: When Jock Semple, the race manager, realised that a woman was part of it, he attempted to rip Switzer’s number off and assaulted the young woman to prevent her from completing the race. In her memoir, Switzer wrote:
Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I'd ever seen. 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 the support of her partners, she managed to escape the man and kept running. She said:
I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women's sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I'd never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win. My fear and humiliation turned to anger.
The reactions of the public were mixed. A woman was standing alongside; she dropped to her knees and said: “Come on honey, come on, run. Do it for all of us.”
At 20 years old, Switzer finishes the course in 4 hours and 20 minutes. But she is disqualified from the marathon and excluded from the AAU. At the same time, the incident made world headlines.
In reaction to her participation, the AAU ruled that women were forbidden to compete with male runners (it’s only in 1972 that the Boston Marathon opened an official women’s race). But it didn’t prevent Switzer from continuing the fight. Once she ended her first marathon, the woman was determined to do 2 things: she wanted to become a better athlete and she wanted to create these opportunities for women.
She says: Running was not political for me, at first. But certainly, when the official attacked me, it became political. Suddenly this number of 261 became a magic number, meaning fearless in the face of adversity.
In 2017, 50 years later, Switzer was able to run the Boston Marathon again.
This time she was surrounded by 13.500 women that qualified to run the race.
We, at You’ve got mail, took the symbol as a mojo. 261 is not only a number, it’s the idea of trust and perseverance. Of accomplishment.
The race is going on. We and our partners will make sure to make your journey a full success.
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