261Fearless running top

Yesterday my milkman asked me what the 261 number on my running top meant. I didn’t want to make him late for the rest of his deliveries but I really wanted to tell him about it. You see it means lots of different things, is very important to me and its powerful message will help so many women. It’s a number you’re going to see popping up more and more all over the place in years to come. Let me explain.
261 means HISTORY.
When Kathrine Switzer was pinning her race number on to her baggy running top in preparation for the Boston Marathon back in 1967, 261 was just another number with no special significance. By the end of the race Kathrine realised that number and what it stood for would change her life. You see, women didn’t run marathons then, they’d been warned their wombs might fall out! There was no ‘gender box’ to tick on the race entry form and as Kathrine had entered using her initials K.V no one other than her running partners and those around her at the start line realised there was a woman in the race. Let’s be clear about this, she didn’t set out to trick anyone. She wasn’t trying to sneak her way in. She always signed her name as K.V Switzer. She’d trained to run a marathon and that’s all she wanted to do. When the race director realised there was a woman in his race he didn’t react well and he tried to tear the numbers from her chest and eject her from the race. Thankfully she was able to get away with the help of her male running partners. She realised that finishing the marathon was now absolutely essential not just for her self but for all women. She had a point to prove and she did. The media coverage from that marathon focused on the lady wearing bib number 261. That lady went on to be an advocate and campaigner for women in sport including her fight to have the women’s marathon in the Olympics which unbelievably didn’t happen until 1984.
Boston marathon Kathrine Switzer
261 means FEARLESS.
Kathrine showed grit and determination to finish the marathon that day and since then many women have used the number 261 as a symbol of bravery. Not just in running long distances but in reminding them how strong they can be in the face of adversity. Whether it’s following a dream, a job interview or a physical challenge, many have written the numbers 261 on their arm or have the mental image in their heads to help them through. I’ve certainly used it. I have a 261Fearless bracelet from my Mallorca marathon goody bag and when I hit the distance again I wore it as a reminder. When the going got tough it helped me to remember all the women that had run that distance before me, how many women face far bigger struggles in life than what I was subjecting myself to and that if I wanted to I could do anything. I ran a personal best time.  I’ve also been known to clutch it during a tough day at work and after a sleepless night with the children. As you can see it’s becoming a little threadbare! Katherine has recently launched the 261Fearless movement as a way to share this message with women all over the world.

261 means EMPOWERMENT.
Any runner will tell you how learning to run can be an incredibly empowering experience. You can gain self-confidence, self respect and control. Running literally can change lives. There’s something so satisfying in setting yourself a challenge and rising to it. For many women running seems impossible and when they realise that with determination they CAN do it then this often has a knock on effect to other areas of their lives. I’ve seen it happen and it’s incredible. So many women are disempowered for so many reasons. This can be taken to extremes in certain parts of the world where the very act of running is still not considered acceptable behaviour for women. 261Fearless aims to reach even the most disempowered of women to help them find their feet – literally.
261 means INCLUSIVITY.
It doesn’t matter what shape or size you are, what your background or your religion is. 261Fearless will welcome you with open arms. Every woman should have the right to run and the right to succeed. We are all equal. 261Fearless running clubs are flourishing in Austria and Germany. Trainers in the USA have just completed their training courses and are heading off to set up their groups. I’m really excited to be involved in the training for run leaders in the UK. These are running groups with the emphasis being on inclusion and fun rather than goal setting. Wherever you go in the world if you looked up a 261Fearless group you’d be guaranteed a warm welcome with great support and no judgement. Watch this space and feel free to get in touch with me if you’re interested in becoming a trainer.
261Fearless trainers
261 means COMMUNITY.
With 261Fearless you immediately have not only a community in your club but suddenly a connection with women all over the world. Women who understand your passion for running but who can also offer support and encouragement, share running events and top tips too. This is an exciting global network with limitless possibilities. It’s an amazing thing to be part of.
261 means FUN and FRIENDSHIP
Yes, 261 means fearless but it also means fun and friendship because the two go hand in hand Where would we be without our supporters, our mentors, our encouragers? Running is about personal challenge but it’s also about enjoyment, all throughout our lives. With the fitness that running gives us we can make the most of every opportunity life brings us. It keeps us happy and healthy and ready to face anything.
261Fearless. Runners jumping
That’s my summary of what 261 means. I think the milkman may have got a little more than he bargained for! I apologise if your delivery was late.
If you’re reading this Mr Milkman, I hope you can understand why I needed to share. Oh and please keep bringing the milk, it’s a great recovery drink after my runs!

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    1. Oh, I’m so glad to be the one to tell you. You can read the whole story in Kathrine’s book Marathon Woman if you’re interested. It’s wonderful that the number has become a force for good. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  1. Hi Dr Juliet,
    what a great story. I have known it for some years now and I can tell you that Katherine Switzer is an inspiring lady. I met here some years ago in Vienna at the “Frauenlauf” (Women’s Run). I do agree with every single line in your post. Thank you for this great summary.
    Best regards from Austria
    Rosa Maria

    1. Oh my goodness! How wonderful to hear from you on here! When there’s 261 training in NZ I’ll be the first with my hand up to go. Such fond memories of our time with you. Very best wishes xx

  2. Thanks for the great article. I enjoyed reading it and it confirms why I run and plod along on my running journey. Can’t wait to join it if it comes to Brisbane ..!

  3. I love your explenation of what 261 stands for (as well as your beautiful running dress;)
    Are you planning to run Women’s Marathon on Mallorka in 2016?
    Greetings from 261 Ambassador in Poland:)

    1. Hello in Poland! thanks so much for your comments. Isn’t it so great to be involved in such a positive movement? If you like the dress I have one or two blogs which explain all about them. I adore them! Hoping for Mallorca 🙂

  4. Great read. I too am excited to be an ambassador for 261fearless. I hope together, we can inspire others to achieve their goals fearlessly using running as motivation to keep pushing forward one step at a time.

    1. Thank you for reading Beth. It’s wonderful to see the global network already linking women around the world. Instant kindred spirits. Best wishes from England. Juliet.

  5. Reblogged this on fierce mind and commented:
    The image of Kathrine Switzer running from the race director whilst male runners protected her from him has stayed with me for years, a symbol of the refusal to acquiesce to a male-dominant society. But positively, a symbol of strength and energy, trust in others, and a willingness to do something new.
    I didn’t pay attention to the number, I probably wouldn’t recognise the lady herself if she walked past me. But the story lodged in my brain and has since grown some roots. Finding this article is a little like those roots finally blooming into a field of tulips. The meaning unfolds as described, and everything about it has altered from a black and white photo to a brightly colourful field of dancing flowers. What a remarkable outcome. #261Fearless

    1. Oh thanks that’s so kind Anna, it’s an amazing story isn’t it? You should read Kathrine’s book Marathon Woman for the full story. Normal posting will resume soon, just finishing off my book!

  6. This post speaks directly to me and I so love what 261Fearless stands for. I love running! It makes me feel empowered and it gives me the strength I need to never give in never give up.
    I recounted K.V. Switzer’s story to my two daughters recently and they were absolutely shocked that it was such a recent episode in history.
    Thank you for sharing, I’m so glad your milkman asked!

    1. My daughter ran a small race at the weekend and had number 242. “It’s nearly 261 Mummy” she said. It’s amazing that our daughters can grow up running and being fearless because of women like Kathrine. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. J

  7. You are so inspiring!! It so nice to seeing a fellow medic pursuing a passion outside of medicine. Thank you for sharing your love for running. I’ve recently gotten into running and I’m really enjoying it – I was always a sprinter in high school and never thought I would enjoy longer distances. I really appreciated learning about what 261 means – I have a greater respect for Katherine Switzer. Keep up the good work!

    1. Oops, this comment slipped through without me replying. So sorry! Thanks so much and ditto about the fellow medic bit xx Just checking out your avocado cheesecake recipe, wow!

  8. You are so inspiring!! It’s so nice to see another medic pursuing a passion outside of medicine. Thanks for educating me about K.V., I respect the right that I have to run as a woman in a competition so much more. I recently got into long distance running and I’m enjoying it. Keep up your amazing good work!

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