Kathrine Switzer meets a lot of runners. The 261 Fearless founder (who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official bib, back in 1967) travels the world, promoting women’s empowerment through running. But even she was shocked, during her visit to the Berlin Marathon last month, to meet a woman who has 2,200 marathons on her running CV–quite possibly more than any other woman alive.
Born in 1940, Sigrid Eichner’s running began metaphorically–as an infant, she “ran” from Allied bombs, and from the Russians, with her family. Her passion for physical activity was born after the war, when, as a talented gymnast, she was sent to a boarding school for athletes. It wasn’t until she was a working mother of 40 that she started running, to take time for herself and escape domestic life (and possibly an unhappy marriage), according to one report. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, running became a way for her to explore the world.
Can't even IMAGINE this, but 78-year old Sigrid Eichner ran her 2,200th marathon in the @BERLINMARATHON–more than any woman in the world. Met her at the @261Fearless Meet Run. EXTREMELY fit, grandmother and world traveler!#261Fearless#ActiveAging#RealSeniorMoments pic.twitter.com/6ZTiCREGsM
— Kathrine Switzer (@KVSwitzer) October 6, 2019
When we tried to verify the number, we found her entry on the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS) site, which shows 681 marathon results between November 29, 1981 and October 31, 2017, and includes the 2003 Niagara Falls Marathon and New York City Marathon during her only visit to North America. (The ARRS site has been in limbo since the death of its driving force, Ken Young, in 2017.) The German ultramarathon site D-U-V.com lists between one and 23 ultra results for Eichner every year between 1981 and the present. It’s fair to say that Eichner has done more running than anything else, with the possible exception of breathing, during the last 40 years of her life. Her children now grown, she admits she runs to escape loneliness. She has a literal curtain of race medals in her home, a room full of trophies from her younger days, and a closet full of race shirts.
It is sometimes suggested that people who race a lot must have money in order to afford the constant travel and race entries, but this does not appear to be the case for Eichner, most of whose races nowadays are in her native Germany. She favours hostels over hotels, and has occasionally slept on the floor of the race expo to save money. Last year she spent just over 3,000 euros on 88 races, including travel and accommodation. She spoke of contacting the Guinness World Records organization in the hope of attracting a sponsor, but so far there is no official Guinness record.
She is rarely injured, though one report says she was once badly hurt in a car accident, and now has four screws in her back.
Occasionally running multiple marathons in a single weekend, Eichner says, “The first 30 minutes are the hardest.”