Participant seen during the Wings for Life World Run in San Francisco, CA, USA on May 7, 2023.
© Long Nguyen for Wings for Life World Run

Meet Bobbi Gibb: The 1st woman to run the Boston Marathon

Before 1966, the sporting establishment considered women physically incapable of distance running. A young upstart named Bobbi Gibb proved them wrong and she tells us how in the Why I Run podcast.
By Geoffroy Bresson
6 min readPublished on
Bobbi Gibb has always loved to run.
“I think it's a very natural thing when you're a kid. You love to run. You go to the beach and you run up and down and just have this wonderful sense of joy – and I still do,” says Gibb, aged 81, a native of Massachusetts, on the Why I Run podcast.
But it was as a 21-year-old in 1964 that Gibb experienced a pivotal moment: her first view of a marathon, a distance that back then was run only by men.
“This is the first time I'd ever seen a whole bunch of people running together, and it's like, 'wow, these people feel the way I do,'” she recalls. “I wasn't thinking men or women or anything. I was just thinking, ‘I want to be part of this thing.' It was like falling in love – it made no sense. For a grown woman to run in those days was thought to be totally improper and unladylike.”
Trailblazing marathon runner Bobbi Gibb makes history by taking part in the Boston Marathon.

Bobbi Gibb made history at the Boston Marathon

© Paul Connell/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Running is for everyone

Never having considered endurance running, her first challenge was just finding out if she could run the required distance of 26.2 miles (42.2km). In those days, there was no marathon training guide for women. In fact, she says, “Women didn't run, period. So I was pushing into the unknown.”
But that was far from her biggest running challenge. After two years of building her stamina, the young woman wrote to apply for the Boston Marathon. The race director responded flatly that females were not physiologically able to run marathon distances – which must have come as quite a surprise to Gibb, who by that point was covering up to 40 miles (64km) in training. To add insult to injury, she was informed that the longest race possible for a woman was 1.5 miles (2.4km). The curt rejection only fueled her fire to take part.
"Now, I had to run this marathon," says Gibb. "Because if I can run this race and I can show that this misconception about women is wrong, it’s going to throw the question about all the other misconceptions, lies, false beliefs that have been used to keep women oppressed for centuries."
In the spring of 1966, wearing her brother’s Bermuda shorts and a hooded sweatshirt to blend in with the male runners, Gibb made her way to the starting line of the Boston Marathon. She had traveled from California to Massachusetts on a bus, determined and ready to make her statement. Hiding in the bushes near the start until the race began, she eventually merged seamlessly with the other runners, avoiding detection for being a woman.
As she ran, spectators and fellow marathoners realized a woman was among them, tackling the same grueling distance. Far from encountering hostility, Gibb was met with encouragement and cheers from the crowd, many of whom were amazed and inspired by her determination. Reflecting on the experience, Gibb recalls, "People were saying, 'We won’t let them throw you out.'" I’ve heard people saying they’d love for their wife to run a marathon too!' The press had spotted me early on in the race, so everybody knew I was coming. I was being broadcast on the radio. At that moment, we knew that things would never be the same."

Women making marathon history; meet Kathrine Switzer

Gibb's unprecedented run in the 1966 Boston Marathon not only challenged preconceived notions, but also paved the way for other pioneering women, like Kathrine Switzer, to make their mark. Switzer, unlike Gibb, officially entered the Boston Marathon in 1967 under the ambiguous initials of K. V. Switzer and was issued a bib number. Her participation garnered significant attention when a race official attempted to forcibly remove her from the course, an incident that was captured in iconic photographs and further highlighted the resistance faced by women in athletics.
The public outcry following Switzer's ordeal and Gibb's repeated runs without official recognition sent a clear message to the athletic community and the wider public: women could handle the marathon distance, and they deserved the right to compete. This pressure led to incremental changes in how women were viewed in the sphere of long-distance running.
By 1972, the Boston Marathon officially opened registration to women, marking a monumental step in the fight for equality in sports.
Bobbi Gibb of the USA changed history when, as a 23-year-old in 1966, she became the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon course, and she is still running, seen here on a beach at age 80.

Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon from start to finish

© Courtesy Bobbi Gibb

Bobbi Gibb continues to run at 81

Decades later, the legacy of these changes is still evident. Fifty-eight years after her first marathon, Gibb, now 81, continues to run. "It keeps me young," she laughs. Despite admitting that her pace has slowed, she's even considering running another marathon. "I'm glad to see more and more people running," she comments on the Why I Run podcast.
Bobbi Gibb was at the starting line of the Wings for Life World Run in 2023, a race where all participants run to achieve another dream: finding a cure for spinal cord injury. "It will be a lot of fun and it's for a worthy cause," she comments.

FAQ: Bobbi Gibb and women's marathon history

How many times did Bobbi Gibb run the Boston Marathon?
Bobbi Gibb participated in the Boston Marathon in 1966, 1967 and 1968, making history as the first woman to complete the race. Her courageous acts during a period when women were not officially allowed to compete highlighted the need for change in the rules governing women’s participation in long-distance running.
Did Bobbi Gibb sneak into the Boston Marathon?
Indeed, Bobbi Gibb secretly entered the 1966 Boston Marathon by hiding in the bushes near the start and joining the race after it began. This unsanctioned participation was a pivotal moment in sports, setting the stage for the eventual acceptance of women in marathon events.
When did women first run a marathon?
The earliest recorded instance of a woman running a marathon distance was by Stamata Revithi in 1896 on the world stage. However, her participation was not officially recognized by the world stage organizers, and she ran the course a day after the men's race. In terms of recognized participation in marathon events, Bobbi Gibb is noted as the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon in 1966, though her entry was unofficial as women were not allowed to compete. Kathrine Switzer followed in 1967, becoming the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon under a registered bib number, a significant act that highlighted gender barriers in sports. It was not until 1972, influenced by such pioneering efforts and growing advocacy, that women were officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon, marking a significant milestone in the acceptance and recognition of women in endurance sports.

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