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Female Marathon Runners That Changed the Sport Forever

Female Marathon Runners That Changed the Sport Forever

Endurance sports weren’t always how they are now. It took multiple female marathon runners to change the sport for the better.

Female marathon runners are high endurance athletes we can look to for inspiration.

Some athletes go above and beyond their competition and change their sport forever.

You would think running would be straightforward and inclusive, right? The sport doesn't require special equipment, coaches, or strict rules — simply lace up and get going.

Unfortunately, female marathon runners and long-distance athletes didn't have an easy entry into the competition. Previous generations of women had to push back against cultural beliefs and organizations to find their way into the sport. Thanks to these women, running is all-inclusive, and nearly anyone can get involved.


Bobbi Gibb

Roberta Louise, or "Bobbi" Gibb, fought her way into the 1966 Boston Marathon, becoming the first-ever female runner to finish the race. Gibb trained for two years to compete in the Boston Marathon, only to have her application letter rejected because women were believed to be physically incapable of running long distances. Gibb then realized how important it was for her to compete and the social impact it would create.

On the race day, Gibb hid in some nearby bushes wearing only her brother's Bermuda shorts, a blue hoodie, a black tank top, and her tennis shoes. She leapt into the middle of the pack after the race began, finishing in 03:21:40, ahead of over half of the other male runners.

Although she faced a mixture of public backlash and support, Gibb changed the sport forever and pushed open the door for future female competitors.

The NYC 6

You wouldn't be far off If you think the NYC 6 sounds like a group of superheroes or vigilantes. Six women, commonly referred to as the NYC 6, registered to compete in the 1972 New York City Marathon. At the time, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) only allowed women to run if they started 10 minutes before or after the male competitors, insisting it was a "separate but equal start."

Lynn Blackstone, Jane Mujrke, Liz Franceschini, Cathy Miller, Pat Barrett, and Nina Kuscsik weren't having any of this. All six racers took a seat once the gun was fired. The six female racers waited ten minutes to start running, protesting the regulation with signs stating, "Hey, AAU. This is 1972. Wake up."

The NYC 6 became the first group of women to finish the New York City Marathon, with Kuscsik becoming the first official female to finish the race. Shortly after, the AAU removed its "separate but equal" rules, opening up the sport to more women and diversity.

This article only includes two races and a handful of female marathon runners that have changed the sport. There are many icons like Kathrine Switzer, Rahaf Khatib, Brigid Kosgei, and more. These brave women stood up for their beliefs and changed the world. Running and long-distance sports wouldn't be as inclusive, diverse, and female-forward without these women.

Which female athletes inspire you the most? Let us know on Twitter at!


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