01 June 2016
fred kaplan / sports illustrated / getty images
fred kaplan / sports illustrated / getty images

ON 19 APRIL 1966, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb, aged 23, runs towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon, on the way to becoming the first woman to complete the 42.2-kilometre race.

Gibb trained for the contest for two years, doing some of her most intense preparation on a month-long road trip across the United States. With only her dog for company, and wearing the sturdiest footwear she could find—nurse’s shoes—she ran along the Mississippi River, through the Great Plains, and even up and over the Great Divide in the Rocky Mountains. In February of 1966, she contacted the Boston Athletic Association, or BAA, the body in charge of the marathon, requesting permission to register as a racer. The race director curtly refused to send her the application forms, saying women were physiologically unable to run such long distances.

Angry but unfazed, Gibb arrived at the start of the race wearing a black swimsuit, her brother’s shorts and a hooded sweatshirt that allowed her to cover her hair. She hid in some bushes near the starting line, and jumped into the fray after half of the other runners had begun. Some of them soon realised she was a woman, and—to her relief—were friendly and supportive. She removed her disguise, and was rewarded with wild cheering from supporters all along the race’s route. Gibb clocked in at 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds—ahead of two-thirds of the men.