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The Dick Beardsley Half Marathon ­gets underway Saturday morning.

Inspirational run: Switzer gets hundreds pumped up for annual Beardsley

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Forty-three years ago, Kathrine Switzer did something no other woman had done before -- she signed up for the Boston Marathon.

Her gutsy decision led to a violent move by the race director, who after being mocked for letting a woman sign up for the event, attacked her, ripped off her number and told her to "get da hell outta here."

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But she didn't.

"I'm gonna finish this race on my hands and knees if I have to," Switzer recalled thinking.

She continued the race alongside hundreds of men. Her photo appeared in every major newspaper the next day, but she wanted to make sure people knew it wasn't just a publicity stunt.

"That moment changed my life," Switzer said. "He really scared me ... I thought I was messing up this important race."

Running legend Switzer, now 63, spoke to a group of Dick Beardsley runners Friday night before the 15th annual race this weekend -- proudly explaining how her passion and persistence for women's right to participate in athletic events made history.

Beginning in her early teen years, Swtizer started running every single day. At the age of 19, although she couldn't join the all men's college cross country team, she was still able to practice with them.

She trained day and night, running in the middle of cold, pitch black December nights, not letting even the strongest blizzards stop her.

"It's not just about being fit, it's that sense of empowerment," she said.

On one of her running adventures with her coach Arnie Briggs, she told him she was thinking about running the Boston Marathon. But he looked at her and flat out told her that women can't run that course.

"Women don't have the capabilities of running 26 miles," Switzer recalled Briggs saying.

She wanted to prove him -- and everyone else who thought women were fragile -- wrong. She continued training and running 10, 12, 13 miles a day, until it was time for the big event.

Switzer was always used to seeing segregated sports such as "men's cross country," "women's cross country" or "men's track and field," "women's track and field."

But when it came to the Boston Marathon, there was no gender listed on the entry form. It had always been a man's game.

In the spring of 1967, the 20-year-old signed up for the Boston Marathon. She was number 261.

And although the race director's actions were embarrassing and scary to the point that Switzer said she thought she would get arrested, she was the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon.

But she didn't stop there. Switzer wanted every woman to be given the chance to make it in sports -- or at least be given the opportunity to accomplish what she had accomplished.

In 1972, she helped organize the first-ever women's only 10K run in Central Park, New York City. After years of hard work and dedication, in 1984, she was responsible for the first women's Olympic marathon.

"To me giving women the marathon in the Olympics was like giving women the right to vote," Switzer said.

Her inspirational talk at the Historic Holmes Theatre Friday night got Beardsley runners pumped up for the 5K, half marathon and relay races the next morning.

More than 1,500 participants from all over the region filled the scenic course.

Alanna Rerick of West Fargo ran the 5K as a stepping-stone for a 10K that she's training for. She said this year the Beardsley run was also a family affair, with her husband, mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law all participating in the event.

"I like the size of it, it's not too big, it's not too small," she said. "And it's run really well."

Winner of the relay races, Jenny Aune of Fargo, said she's been running the Beardsley for four years, but this year she decided to try something new with the relay.

"I love running in the fall. There is so many people that I know that come here, it's a great course around the lake," she said.

Dick Beardsley, the running legend and the name behind the event, wasn't able to participate in this year's race because he's awaiting knee replacement surgery after he underwent his first one last year. So he stood at the finish line Saturday morning, motivating and cheering on every runner that sprinted past him.

"Hopefully next year, I'll be out there running with all of you," he said Friday night.

According to the 2010 results, 33-year-old Eric Loeffler of Fargo took top honors in the half marathon, finishing at 1:09:39, while 50-year-old Tom Stambaugh of Nevis finished the 5K first at 17:08.

For complete results, visit the website, www.dickbeardsleyrun.com and click on "2010 Results."

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