February 21 2018
Karen Lyons started running to escape hardship–and couldn’t stop.
Mary Wittenberg has a history of shaking up the running world. This former competitive runner was the transformative force behind the New York Road Runners for a decade. She was responsible for making the NYC Marathon and many other area races more successful than ever, as well as securing major sponsorships for a variety of NYRR races. Her success was noticed by innovative billionaire Richard Branson, who tapped her to be the CEO of his newest venture, Virgin Sport.
Wittenberg has created the new Virgin Sport festivals, which launched this year with four events. Three events were in England, and the fourth and final 2017 event will be in San Francisco Oct. 14–15. These sport festivals are designed to attract people with all different fitness interests and abilities, much like Wittenberg did during her time at NYRR when she added shorter-distance races to the NYRR roster. Her work with Virgin Sport goes even further, incorporating a variety of race lengths and multiple fitness disciplines into one event, including yoga and boot-camp classes. Wittenberg has always worked to bring running to as many people as possible, and her plans with Virgin Sport show that is still her focus. So creating a series of sporting events that brings together as many people as possible seems like the natural next step. As Wittenberg said earlier this year in an interview with Fortune, “The reality of our life is that we’re surrounded by a variety of friends and family who have different interests and abilities.”
Kathrine Switzer became a pioneer in the running world 50 years ago—and remains one to this day. In 1967, Switzer became the first woman to register for the Boston Marathon by using her first initial instead of her first name to sign up. Five years before Title IX became law, it was uncommon for female athletes to participate in marathons. But that didn’t stop Switzer. Despite the infamous race director who tried to force her off the course, Switzer finished running Boston, becoming the first officially registered woman to do so.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of Switzer’s victorious run. When participants lined up at the starting line on April 17, Switzer, now 70 years old, was among them, proudly wearing the same bib number she’d worn in 1967. Surrounded by the 261 Fearless team (named for her now retired bib number), Switzer finished the race in a time of 4:44:31.
“As I look back at those 50 years, it’s been a social revolution,” Switzer told Women’s Running earlier this year. “I was a girl who simply wanted to run, and something happened to me. It’s what you do with things that happen to you.”
This summer, Alysia Montaño showed up to run the 800 meters at the USATF Outdoor Championships—pregnant. Again. The 2012 Olympian and seven-time U.S. champion sported a Wonder Woman top, colorful flowers in her hair and an adorable five-month baby bump when she raced in Sacramento, Calif. The scene was almost a replay of 2014, when she ran the same race eight months pregnant with her daughter, Linnea—a race that arguably gained her more fame than any of her championships.
“It was such an amazing experience,” Montaño told Team USA in reference to the 2014 race. “There is something about coming out to any venue not really expecting to win but going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it.”
The real-life Wonder Woman clocked a 2:21.40 finish, which was 30th overall (and not good enough to advance past the first round), but it was almost 11 seconds faster than her 2014 time. Montaño said that she hopes her effort empowers and inspires women who might feel pressured to follow a specific trajectory in life (whether or not that involves pregnancy). Despite the serious statement she was making, she approached the race with some levity, posting a race photo afterward on her Instagram with a lighthearted caption: “I have some pretty awesome maternity photos from both pregnancies.”