The First Woman to Run the
1966, 1967 and 1968
Thirty-fifth Anniversary Celebration 2001
Front-Page Headlines: Roberta Louise Gibb (Bobbi Gibb), the first woman
ever to run the Boston Marathon, 1966.
Bobbi Gibb finishing the 1966 Boston Marathon.
Bobbi Gibb running: "I ran the Boston Marathon out of love."
To Boston with Love Roberta Louise Gibb is not only a pioneer
athlete but also a nationally renowned sculptor. Her bronze sculpture, The
Marathoners, is on display in the National Art Museum of Sport. Germain
Glidden, founder of NAMOS, says of her work, "She captures the human spirit
in bronze." Gibb is also a lawyer, writer and mother. To Boston With Love, 28 pg., The
Inspiring Story of Gibb's first run in 1966. The Winner, 17'' solid bronze. Albert Einstein, life-size bronze. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Passionate Story
The First Woman to Run
The Boston Marathon
I ran the Boston Marathon out of love.
I believe that love is the basis
of all meaningful human endeavor.
Running expresses my love of Nature,
my delight in being alive.
Yet it was a love that was incomplete
until it was shared with others.
When I started running,
I knew no other runners, male or female.
I had not heard of the Boston Marathon
and had never seen a track meet.
I ran as a way of reaffirming some
semiconscious ancient bond
between the Earth and
myself as a human animal.
I came to running from a feeling that
something was missing in my secure
suburban existence and in the life plan
the 1950’s had in store for me.
At a deeper level I sought to come
to terms with my own mortality,
with the relationship between mind or
soul and body or the physical.
I was groping for a synthesis
in my life and found comfort in running
long-distance through field, forest and city.
I was looking for the bare reality of things,
people, and the world.
excited and awed me.
My running companions were my dog
and her canine friends.
I found peace in the solitude and
exquisite perfection of Nature.
As a student at Tufts University
School of Special Studies,
I met a man who ran cross-country.
“Five miles!” I exclaimed in disbelief
when he told me how long the meet was.
But within six months
I was trotting right along
as he ran five, six, ten miles.
I seemed to have a knack for it
and a lot of stamina.
I gasped when the father
of a friend told me about
the Boston Marathon in 1964.
“Sure. Why don’t you go out
and watch it since you like running
so much,” he suggested.
At that time I was commuting
eight miles from Winchester to
Boston, running, every day.
So I went, and I saw people running.
They looked like wonderful people,
like some kind of exotic animal running
so strongly, quietly, patiently.
I knew they felt the same bond as I felt
with some ancient human potential
all but lost in modern society.
I recognized a kindredness
with these runners and some
internal decision was made to run
with them in a mutual expression of
our belief in what it means to be human.
I started to train but had no coach,
no notion of how to train, no encouragement,
no role models. So I just kept running farther
and farther, curious to see
how far I could go and how fast.
Some days I could fly like a bird,
other days I felt tired and discouraged.
My friend and I explored the
architectural wonders of Boston,
New York, and New Haven together.
We ran out along the railroad tracks,
across frozen lakes. He would take me into
the country and drop me off to run home.
That summer I took my dog and VW bus
across the continent to California and back,
running every day in a new place.
The hills of Pennsylvania and West Virginia,
the lush forests of Indiana,
the plains of Kansas and Nebraska,
the streets of Denver,
the high meadows of the Rockies,
the Sierras and the Coastal Mountains
of California all became my friends.
Miles and miles of nameless trails
I ran, and at night
I slept under the stars.
The next April, 1965,
I stood almost in tears
watching the Marathon
with two sprained ankles.
It would be another year before I ran.
That autumn, still training,
I ran sixty-five miles of the
Woodstock Vermont hundred-mile
equestrian event, in which the horses
run 40 miles the first day,
40 miles the second day and
20 miles the third day.
The first day I arose at dawn
and set off with the first horses.
All day we ran over rugged terrain,
dirt roads and mountain trails.
The horses and riders passed me
and at lunchtime they stopped
and I passed them.
The riders were friendly.
Often we would converse as
I trotted along beside their horses.
We finished around 1:00 p.m.
The next day I set off again at dawn
and ran 25 miles before my knees started hurting.
Many years later
I was to discover that running on my toes,
as I did, strained my knees.
A good coach is invaluable to a runner.
I hitchhiked back to the barn with a trucker
who accepted my “eccentric” passion for running
with the usual Yankee understatement.
“Better luck next year,” he smiled
as he dropped me off,
as if running 40 miles in one day
and 65 miles in two days
over rough terrain, old logging roads
and incredible hills was some kind of failure.
Finally, in February 1966,
I wrote for my application
for the Boston Marathon
from California, where I had moved.
I received a curt reply that women
were not physiologically able to run
such distances and furthermore
were not allowed to do so.
I was stunned.
I’d heard that the Marathon
was open to every person in the world.
It had never crossed my mind
to consider myself different from the other runners.
My outrage turned to humor
as I thought how many preconceived
prejudices would crumble
when I trotted right along for twenty-six miles.
I knew nothing of the formal world of athletics.
No doubt people of the time,
both men and women, simply didn’t know.
Women in sports were not allowed to run
more than one and a half miles.
Women not in sports
would have little reason to do so.
My running of the Marathon
thus became a feminist statement.
I believed that once people knew women
could run marathon distances,
the field would naturally open up.
I even dreamed of running
an Olympic marathon.
Boston is my home
and the Boston Marathon has
a special significance to me.
I’ll never forget my first run in 1966;
popcorn vendors, balloons,
kids, crowds of people!
Still tired from riding the bus
four days and three nights
from California to Boston,
I had disguised myself in a blue
hooded sweatshirt and was wearing
new boys’ size six running shoes.
The look on my mother’s face
as she dropped me off in Hopkinton
reflected pride and concern, a combination of
“I know you can do it” and
“Will you be all right?”
The other runners were clustered
in the starting pen.
I was crouched in the bushes.
“Bang!” the starting gun fired.
I stumbled from the bushes
into the midst of the runners
wondering how many other women
writers, artists, scientists, and soldiers
had had to disguise
their femininity; so well that history
has still not discovered.
I have since come to see
how history can be distorted
merely by repetition of a non-truth
by a person or group
with a financial or egotistical
reason for doing so, or simply
My heart was beating double time
as I began to realize the implications
of what I was attempting.
I tend to be shy,
and here I was in front of
thousands of people. A pang of loneliness
shot through my gut.
After a few minutes,
I noticed a studious silence
behind me, and murmurs.
“Is that a girl?”
“It is a girl!”
I turned and smiled over my shoulder.
They laughed and so did I.
“Hey, fantastic!” they said.
“Are you going to run the whole way?”
“I hope so,” I replied.
“That’s great! I wish more women ran.”
“I wish my wife would run,” one man said wistfully.
I felt these men were my brothers.
I could see how much they wanted to share
their passion for running with
the women in their lives.
As I warmed up, I began to want
to take off my sweatshirt
and its constricting hood.
“Go ahead,” the tall man
from Connecticut said.
“I’m afraid if they know I’m a woman
they will throw me out,” I confessed.
“We won’t let them throw you out,” one said.
“It’s a free road,” said another.
As soon as the crowds saw I was a woman
there was a great commotion.
People yelled and cheered, calling
out to me, wishing me good luck.
I wanted to respond, to say “Thank you,”
and to smile and wave back.
“How rude to run right by,” I thought.
Mr. Chamberlain, the tall man
from Connecticut, ran stride
for stride with me for many miles.
We chatted on and off.
His presence gave me comfort.
My dream was that men and women
could run together and share the consciousness
of the common bond of humanity
based on a mutual commitment and
sharing of what they love in life.
Hatred, war between the sexes,
exhausts both and leads to nothing.
We were churning off each
mile in a little less than
As we passed Wellesley College,
women waved and shouted in exultation.
I felt as though I was setting these women free.
I was touched that my running
meant so much to them.
One woman, with several children
clinging to her ample coat,
called ecstatically, “Ave Maria, Ave Maria!”
I felt a surge of tears come
to my eyes at the contact.
Did she know that in my heart
I wanted children; that I respected her
for her devotion, patience and her strength.
She had undertaken,
without thought of fame or reward,
the most difficult,
most important human endeavor of all.
Twenty miles and I felt splendid.
I was conserving my energy now,
aware that if I failed to finish
I would end up disproving exactly
what I had set out to prove
and would support rather than demolish
the then-current prejudices and
preconceptions about women.
So I didn’t push
but ran comfortably
until the bottoms of my feet
began to burn.
I wasn’t used to running on pavement
and my new shoes hurt.
Each step sent a searing jolt of pain to my brain.
I do not like pain one bit.
My pace dropped off.
I set each foot down as if on tacks.
“Only six miles to go,”
I had thought smugly as I breezed along.
“Six miles is nothing.
I can run six miles in my sleep.”
But the Marathon is not a place for smugness.
Respect for that distance and
for the human body that runs it
My respect returned
as my pace dropped.
The last two miles
I began to feel like a failure.
And this is where I learned
the real meaning of fortitude:
to keep on in the face of disappointment,
to continue to do your best
even when others are passing you.
To see your hopes crushed and yet to continue.
This is why I have as much respect
for those who run and do not finish first
as I have for the ones whose strength,
endurance and training brings them first place.
At last I turned the corner
and there was the finish line.
Newspaper reporters and TV cameras
crowded into the streets.
The crowd was wild.
I had finished 126th out of some four
hundred fifty runners
in a time of three hours,
and forty seconds.
Bus loads of runners
who had dropped out of the race
passed waving, cheering, laughing.
I loved that crowd.
I loved my fellow runners.
I was supremely happy.
The Governor of Massachusetts
to shake my hand.
I was honored.
The feeling that emerged
from the crowd was that I was special
not just because I had run the Marathon,
but because I was a woman.
I don’t think of myself as special,
or rather, I think everyone is special
in his or her unique way.
What I wanted was not
the acclaim for myself,
for I would rather have
love, peace, good health,
outlets for my creativity,
What I want and wanted
is a better world for all.
A better world begins with
As I turned to follow the other runners
to the traditional post-marathon stew,
the doors were shut.
I walked across the damp,
cold parking garage alone.
That old lump came to my throat again.
I knew there was more to be done
to break down the subtle barriers
of which I had so recently become aware,
to restore harmony and end ignorance and fear.
Yet I had opened the door
to a world of possibilities and
had brought attention to running as a way of life.
The time was ripe.
Once the idea was made public,
other women began to filter in.
More and more women every year
until six years later, in 1972,
even the officials recognized women as “official.”
I was to run two more years,
1967 and 1968,
my beloved Boston Marathon.
Then I returned to the quiet places I’d left,
the mountain trails, the vast blue sky,
the nameless clouds,
forests, deserts and beaches.
I returned to reestablish
my bond with Nature,
with the Source of all Being.
Once again running
became a way to express joy.
I’m glad those who followed me
have opened up competitive running to women.
I am even more pleased that people,
men and women, everywhere are
finding what they truly love in life.
Especially I appreciate the people
who quietly and privately
go about their lives and running
without the thought or possibility
of winning marathons,
but whose balance, courage, and
perseverance is heroic,
perhaps more so
for being unnoticed and unacclaimed.
People, ordinary people,
whether given credit or not.
Is the mountain flower
because it blooms unnoticed?
I think not.
This edition is dedicated to the people of the
Boston Athletic Association, who have become
my second family.
Thirty-five years later I am thankful that
I continue to run an hour or more a day. I am
constantly delighted by meeting extraordinary
and wonderful people, many of whom
also celebrate life by running.
I believe in people and in the infinite
goodness of all creation.
All rights to this autobiography and
any theatrical presentation, film,
documentary, publication, electronic transmission
or any story based on this autobiography
are held by Bobbi Gibb.
Special Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Edition
Copyright 2000 Bobbi Gibb
Roberta Louise Gibb is not only a pioneer athlete but also a nationally renowned sculptor. Her bronze sculpture, The Marathoners, is on display in the National Art Museum of Sport. Germain Glidden, founder of NAMOS, says of her work, "She captures the human spirit in bronze." Gibb is also a lawyer, writer and mother.
To Boston With Love, 28 pg., The Inspiring Story of Gibb's first run in 1966.
The Winner, 17'' solid bronze.
Albert Einstein, life-size bronze.