Whether you are a keen runner or would much rather run a bath, it’s hard not to be inspired by the story of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston marathon as a registered competitor. Kathrine’s account of that first marathon in 1967 is a fascinating read and contains a number of aspects that many women in leadership would be able to relate to: the way in which she broke barriers and stereotypes – overcoming the limitations many tried to put on her simply because of her gender; her courage in entering a male-only race and persistence in completing it; and her journey from simply wanting to be part of the race herself to realising that she was able to pave a way for other women.

Kathrine didn’t run the race alone though – her coach Arnie Briggs was with her along the way. As leaders we can’t underestimate the importance of having people alongside us in running our race. Arnie was instrumental in Kathrine’s historic achievement in three key ways:

1. Investment

Arnie was Kathrine’s running coach; she joined his running club at university and he was glad to have her as part of the group. He overcame his own doubt about women being able to run marathons, challenging Kathrine to run the marathon distance of 26 miles in their training (not only did she do that during their training, but she carried on running for a further 5 miles!). Arnie invested in Kathrine through training prior to the race and then ran alongside her during the race itself too.

2. Support

During the marathon, race manager Jock Semple tried to forcibly remove Kathrine from the race, attempting to rip her race numbers off, claiming that she didn’t belong in the marathon and had no place there as a woman. Arnie and others came to her defence, ensuring she was protected and could continue to run. When Jock tried to threaten Kathrine a second time, it was Arnie and other runners who raised their voices in opposition to him.

3. Encouragement

Along with being attacked and threatened by the race manager, Kathrine faced aggressive questioning from the press who seemed eager for her to fail, as well as her then boyfriend criticising and putting her down during the race itself. Despite all of this opposition, it was Arnie who continued to encourage her, telling her at times to “shake it off” and keep going.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 the apostle Paul urged the church in Thessalonica to “encourage one another and build each other up”. Life and leadership are never meant to be done in isolation, instead we all need people around us who invest in us, support us, and encourage us. Those who are committed to running the race alongside us; spurring us on when things are tough; speaking hope, truth, and love into our lives.

I’m grateful to God for the many “Arnies” out there – women and men who are committed allies for women leaders; those who invest in, support, and encourage us as we lead. One of the reasons I appreciate being part of Kyria is that we’re a network of leaders who strive to put into practice 1 Thessalonians 5:11 as we encourage one another and build each other up. So let’s keep on running and while we’re running our own race, let’s also commit to being an “Arnie” for someone else too, helping them to stay in the race and get to the finish line!