December 6, 2021

She’s still leading the way

Legendary runner Switzer urges seniors to keep fit

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland runner Angie Carpenter, left, expresses her admiration to Kathrine Switzer, right, before the Empire State Senior Games 5K race Thursday at SUNY Cortland. Switzer broke the gender barrier for the Boston Marathon.

Women should learn they are never too old, too big, too slow or too unathletic to start jogging, said Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon and a competitor this week at the Empire State Senior Games.

When the New Paltz woman was 20, people were telling her she couldn’t run a marathon, and she became famous when a race official tried to pull her off the Boston Marathon course in 1967. She was a woman: She wasn’t “supposed” to run an “all-male” event.

“Just as women 50 years ago were considered too fragile, too weak, too inept to think they could run a marathon — that’s what they say about old people. I’m getting it two times. … Now they are saying to old people: You are going to have to sit down. You might break a hip. You are going to have a heart attack. Sit down and rest!”

Switzer, at 71, has more than 39 marathons under her belt, including the Boston Marathon in 2017 — when she was 70 — 50 years after her famous race she entered as K.V. Switzer.

Her boyfriend decked that race official and she kept on running, finishing the race. But the moment was captured by photograph and made newspapers across the country.

The Syracuse University graduate, TVcommentator, founder of 261 Fearless running club for women, author of “Running & Walking for Women Over 40,” finished a 5K run with 40 runners Thursday at the senior games at SUNY Cortland. She was among 50- to 84-year-olds on the out-and-back course on a windy morning at the sports complex.

She also did a 5K run Friday. She came to the Cortland games to qualify for a spot in the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, N.M. She did, with a 27:16 (unofficial) time.

“I ran a good race … I needed a 32:10 and I knew I could do that,” she said. “I have to run a 10K tomorrow. I bought a five-pound bag of Epsom salts to sit in, in the tub in my hotel.”

Angie Carpenter, 80, of Cortland, was excited to run with Switzer. In fact, she’s grateful she can even move. She is returning from a bike crash in September, where she injured her face, teeth and back. She needed surgery and four days in a hospital.

Carpenter said she could bounce back because she was in such good shape as a runner. She competed in the 5K on Thursday, the 10K on Friday and planned a 5K race in the area this weekend.

“I’ve been doing the senior games for eight to 10 years,” she said.

This year, to prepare, she had to stay on the treadmill and the stationary bike — doctors’ orders. She worked at it three days a week, building up to seven miles in one hour on the treadmill.

“I had to get ready for this 10K, seven miles,” she said. And was happy to run with Switzer. “Last year at the Boiler Maker, I bought her book. She did her 50-year anniversary Boston Marathon. It’s fantastic. Her story’s inspiring. She started it all.”

“Running was considered a man thing,” Carpenter said. “We are liberated, we women. There was no place for women in those days. She was our inspiration.”

“If I can still be running when I am 80, that will be something,” said Julie Barclay, 45, of Groton, who was volunteering with Matt Banazek, 47, of Homer, at the race. Both are runners.

Amy Spadolini, 54, of Cortland, started running at 50. Her daughter, Jenny Shonk, got her started.

“I didn’t think I could do it. I went to her first 5K. It was so exciting,” Spadolini said. “We did our first 5K Mother’s Day. We loved it. It changed my whole life. The way it makes me feel. I feel very young for 54.”

She got a gold medal for her age group, so the bad joints and knee issues weren’t an impediment.

Switzer plans another marathon, training for Berlin in September.

“A lot of women who are 70 run. I am careful for my health,” she said. “I run every other day. I use the day off for recovery and get work done in my real life. I also do core work.”

As for injuries: “When it hurts, I stop. That’s it … the core works helps you. I also only run on soft surfaces.”

Dirt makes a difference.

“Put your sneakers by the door. Put them on and go out and do 10 minutes of walking,” she said, for people over 50 who might want to try to exercise.

When that feels good, try a jog to a lamp post, she said. Gradually work the running in back and forth with walking. But get at least 10 minutes of exercise a day every day.

“People always underestimate themselves: “They are too old. They can’t do it. But the body always wants to get better.”