I ran Boston three times. During those years of long training hours, of trying to qualify (Boston is the one marathon for which runners have to achieve a certain time in a different marathon to qualify), and of competing, I started to study the stories of Boston, and I became familiar with some of the legends of the race.
One such legend is about a woman named Kathrine Switzer. I heard about her the first time I went to Boston to run. Kathrine was the first woman to ‘officially’ run Boston. She ran it in 1967, at a time when women were not allowed to run marathons. It was widely accepted that they were not capable of pushing their bodies to such limits. Kathrine was a student at Syracuse university, she loved running and she was pretty sure she could complete the marathon distance. She wanted to run Boston to prove that she could do it. Her coach did not think she was capable; he did not think that any woman could do it. (even though Bobbi Gibb had unofficially run it the previous year – hiding in the bushes and then jumping out on to the course). In his words, “No dame ever ran no marathon”. The coach struck a deal with Kathrine: If she could run the full distance in a training run, before the race, he would take her himself.
Of course, she did just that, and that is how she found herself on the start line in 1967, registered under the name of K. V. Switzer. If only the race had gone so smoothly. A few miles in, one of the race directors realized that there was a woman on the course and he actually ran on to the course and tried to push her off. Her boyfriend fended him off and 4 hours, 20 minutes later, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. History of course had been made, but so much more was set into motion on that third Monday of April in 1967.
This year, fifty years later, Kathrine Switzer once again ran this difficult and prestigious race, this time surrounded by a team of women, celebrated by the media, cheered on by millions and flanked by a field of runners made up of roughly the same number of women as men.
Although she did not set out to be, Kathrine Switzer was a disrupter. With her one rather simple action of running 42.2km, she disrupted the world’s view of the athletic abilities of women. She disrupted women’s beliefs about themselves. She disrupted men’s beliefs about women. She disrupted the medical view of women in endurance sport. And the entire world’s thinking grew.
As part of my coach training, I studied a model called TILT. One of the leaders in our course, Jeff Smith, one day said, “Know thyself, disrupt thyself, grow.” It really changed my thinking. Prior to this, I had not given a lot of thought to how we make changes in our lives. This one comment opened my eyes to the realization that when we do not disrupt ourselves, when we simply go along with our usual routines and business, we do not make change; we do not grow. It is only when we are brave enough to disrupt our own lives that we experience growth.
In our lives, disrupters often appear. Any time when plans unexpectedly change, when someone is ill, when a job ends, when we receive news that we are not expecting, when a baby is born, when a relationship begins or ends you can be sure that a disrupter is at work. Some companies actually hire disrupters and they call them such. Their job is to disrupt the routine of the company to provide opportunities for growth.
Most often, we do not welcome disrupters. Many men, and no doubt many women, did not likely welcome the disruption of Kathrine Switzer in Boston in 1967. She was a pain in the neck. She forced people to make changes they did not want to make. She forced them to think in ways they did not want to think. But looking back, I am very grateful that she was courageous enough to be disruptive. In our daily lives too, we can begin to see disrupters as positive influences. They provide us with an opportunity; an opportunity to decide who we need to be in order to grow from their influence.
Kathrine Switzer gave the world an opportunity to decide who it wanted to be. The decision was not made quickly, but over time it began to choose being more inclusive, more equitable, more open-minded and more accepting. When I ran Boston for the third time, in 2010, step by step with my son Greg, I felt nothing but gratitude that Kathrine Switzer had shown up in my lifetime.
This week, notice the disrupters in your life. Notice who they are asking you to be. Welcome them.
Your inquiry for the week is, “Who is this disrupter asking me to become?”
Learn more about the power of your disrupters by booking a coaching session for you or for your team. If you haven’t done so, check out my coaching video and my group coaching video and contact me to help you get started. Disrupt thyself and grow!