The Man Behind the Marathon Woman
By Katie MacIntyre
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon. Since then, she’s run 39 marathons. Kathrine has also been recognized as a sports and social advocate, author and Emmy award-winning television commentator.
For this month’s Man Edition, local fellow runner and marketing professional Katie MacIntyre chatted with Kathrine about the Marathon Woman’s husband and No. 1 supporter, Roger Robinson.
Katie: You have a life companion in your husband, Roger Robinson. How did you meet?
Kathrine: We’ve been married 30 years and I feel like I met him yesterday. He is the great love of my life. We met on the speaking stage of the Canberra Marathon in Australia. I spoke first, thinking I was a good speaker. But when Roger spoke next, I was overwhelmed with his delivery, wit, wickedness, charm and insight. I did not fall in love at first sight; I fell in love at first voice. He was pretty smitten, too.
Katie: Finishing the 1967 Boston Marathon — despite the hostility and aggression you faced from the race director — was only one of many remarkable things you’ve accomplished. How has Roger been a part of your success?
Kathrine: Roger has been instrumental in my success because he helped me understand it in both philosophical and historic terms.
He’s helped me see work — even work I loved — not as a dutiful grind, but as a significant building block, a privilege. He helped me mature and be more patient.
And he’s helped me enormously with my running. No longer was it, “I have to go run!” It was, “The run is the best part of the day.” Seeing him return to running after being in incredible pain and having a knee replacement was the inspiration I needed for taking on Boston 50 years later. I figured nothing is impossible.
Roger was the one who kicked me in the butt to write my autobiography, “Marathon Woman.” I’d already written “Running and Walking for Women Over 40,” but was dithering over doing another. When I would get upset at people telling my history incorrectly, Roger reminded me that if I didn’t tell my story myself, it would continue to get discombobulated. When I got stuck, he’d calmly say, “Just tell the story.”
Roger’s clarity and simplicity at approaching a problem are awesome and important to me. He focuses on the issue and just gets on and does it.
Katie: You and Roger travel the world together and have been part of some pretty remarkable events around the globe.
Kathrine: This is a timely statement! Roger recently launched his latest book, last book, “When Running Made History.” It is about this very subject.
For the past 70 years, he has — and later, he and I have — been at running events that mark important moments in history, portend a future or evoke an era. For instance, we were together at the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
To share some of these moments with him has been truly a blessing. Not only could we get a shared grip on the situation, but we were able to analyze and cope with it, and put it in perspective — all in the context of running, a shared love.
All couples should take a moment to realize the time or situation they are in, talk it out and find the shared joy or share the burden. It makes for great strength and a sense of trust.
Katie: Can you share some secrets of your relationship?
Kathrine: At the beginning, we understood we’ve both been married before, Roger had grown children and we were already older. So, the most important thing was we made a vow not to drag old grievances and prejudices into our new relationship. Even young couples should do this. Dump the past! Get on with life together.
Next, we had a big challenge; we had lives, homes, careers and even “fame” in two different countries. But since we love each other for our individual accomplishments, we decided it was unfair for one person to give up their country and career entirely for the other. So, we decided to live in both countries, which was a huge undertaking and required sacrifice from each of us.
The best thing is — and this is a tip to all people who have to make big accommodations for another person — if you look at it carefully, usually there is no loss, but, in fact, a big gain. We live in two beautiful countries with families in each and have twice as many friends and unique opportunities. These gains are bigger than the losses.
Katie: What is your favorite quality about Roger and why?
Kathrine: His phenomenal sense of equality and fairness. His mother always said he should have been a judge, and she is right. Roger sees the balance in everything. He has a lot of self-esteem, but never imposes his ego.
He supports my activities, but not at the expense of his own. Often, I travel alone, as Roger prefers to use his valuable time not at my events where I don’t really need him, but to do his own important writing, speaking and training on his own terms.
We discuss schedules and plan our time together. Roger mostly arranges our social things. He knows I’m a workaholic and makes sure we keep up with friends. I’d probably lose a lot of friends if it weren’t for him.
Most importantly, we feel the best support for each other is that we regard each other’s lives and achievements to be of equal value.
Katie: Any advice for couples looking to strengthen their relationship? What are some things you and Roger do to stay connected?
Kathrine: We make time for each other — and always take time to be affectionate. We will often schedule time together and even put it in the calendar: date night, run together, important talk at breakfast. When together, we almost always sit down and share meals. We also make sure no matter where we are in the world, we communicate at least once a day — often several times a day — and, very importantly, by voice, not just email or text.
One of the most important things to try to achieve: there must be a sense of fairness and equality in a relationship. We know this is not easy, as individuals have strong personalities and pre-conceived notions about who does what or acts how. This needs to be hammered out and, in many relationships, may not be achievable.
At our wedding, Roger asked a friend to do a reading from Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. The words written in 1390 apply just as much today: “When there is mastery [dominance] in a relationship, love flies away.”
Katie: In closing, is there advice you would tell younger Kathrine and younger Roger?
Kathrine: Forget all the petty little stuff and make love the only contest in your marriage: who can love each other the most.
Katie: Anything else you’d like to share?
Kathrine: Put on your sneakers and start jogging. It will not only make you healthy, it will give you solutions to everything. SWM
Katie MacIntyre is a marketing professional who lives in Auburn with her spouse, Bryan, and two young sons, Peter and Ennis. In 2017, she ran the Boston Marathon with Kathrine and her non-profit team, 261 Fearless, celebrating the 50th anniversary of that 1967 run. Interview has been edited for length and style.