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Durham resident sets sights on Boston as her 11th full marathon

Jennifer Cox is running the Boston Marathon for 261 Fearless, a charity that uses running as a vehicle to empower and unite women.
Jennifer Cox is running the Boston Marathon for 261 Fearless, a charity that uses running as a vehicle to empower and unite women.

“2005 was when I did my very first half-marathon, and if you would’ve told me that I would be running half-marathons and marathons in college, I would’ve laughed at you, because I never made more than three miles,” Cox said.

Nevertheless, the Boston Marathon will be her 11th full marathon.

The training required for a 26.2-mile race can be extensive, and Cox said that marathoners run between 10 and 80 miles in a week.

Not too long ago, however, women weren’t allowed to run marathons as official participants. Kathrine Switzer, the first female runner to register in the Boston Marathon, founded 261 Fearless over a year ago. She wore bib number 261 in the 1967 Boston Marathon.

Chris Grack, vice president of community outreach for the foundation, said that the race director of the Boston Marathon even tried to rip off Switzer’s official bib during the race.

“When she ran the Boston Marathon in 1967, women were being told that they can’t run more than 800 meters because they would grow hair on their chest, and their uteruses would fall out and they would become a man,” Grack said.

Switzer’s story of perseverance became significant to women across the globe.

“They would write her and tell her, you know, ‘I might be that bib number 375,000 in this marathon that I’m doing, but I’m putting the number 261 on my back, because it reminds me not to quit; it helps me push through when I don’t want to do it anymore, just like what you did for us women 50 years ago,’” Grack said.

She said 261 Fearless views the 50th anniversary of Switzer’s Boston Marathon run as the foundation’s launch, with Cox and over 100 other runners hoping to kick off decades of further progress.

“My first marathon was Las Vegas, and running that marathon I had tears at the start line,” Cox said. “I was super nervous, excited, full of emotion, and then I had tears at the halfway mark when the marathoners went right, and I was a marathoner in that race and not a half marathoner. So it gets emotional, and every race that you do you actually remember a lot of the race.”

Grack said that the Boston Athletic Association, which manages the marathon, gave more than 100 spots to runners with 261 Fearless — including Switzer — to honor the 50th anniversary of Switzer’s run.

“Kathrine will be wearing the actual bib, number 261, and then all of the runners that will be running with her will have 261 printed on their T-shirts,” Grack said.

Cox decided to join 261 Fearless after meeting Switzer at event celebrating the 16th birthday of Girls on the Run, a nonprofit. Girls on the Run of the Triangle is sometimes featured in Endurance Magazine, where Cox works.

“Jen and I have been friends for a while, but we met through the relationships Girls on the Run has with Endurance Magazine,” said Juliellen Simpson-Vos, executive director of Girls on the Run of the Triangle.

“When we had this big sweet 16 celebration back in November, we asked her to come back and be the emcee for that, and that’s where she met Kathrine Switzer and heard about the (261) Fearless foundation, and got inspired and got involved in that organization.”

Simpson-Vos said Girls on the Run and 261 Fearless are similar in that both build courage and strength in a safe and secure setting that promotes team-building rather than competition.

Grack said that the work of 261 Fearless can be divided into two facets.

First, the foundation has established a global communication platform for runners to ask questions and provide articles on training or motivational tips.

Second, Grack said 261 Fearless is inviting women into the running community through local running clubs.

“Our goal truly is to invite women in, be able to create the curriculum so that somebody who can run a marathon can connect, have fun and still be able to actively move and engage with women who have never taken a running step in their life before,” she said.

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