Women Can – and Women did!
Four hundred women came together to show that ‘women can’ by taking part in the first ever women-only Women Can marathon on a route taking in glorious coast and countryside in East Devon.
It might be a cliché, but this really was an event where it wasn’t the winning that mattered, it was the taking part.
The event was organised to mark the 50th anniversary of US athlete Kathrine Switzer famously becoming the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon in 1967 in defiance of the ‘no women allowed’ rules. Switzer managed to cross the finish line despite attempts by organisers to physically drag her off the course. Previously deemed “too fragile” to take part in endurance running, Switzer’s achievement and the photos of her being assaulted changed attitudes forever and paved the way for women to take part in endurance events.
The marathon was also a community celebration of the 50th anniversary of the village taking ownership of the Tipton St John Playing Field, where the run started and finished. Many villagers took part in the day as marshals, cake-bakers and tea-makers.
The threatened storm held off and the event took place in perfect conditions. The course took in the Otter and Sid Valleys, a stretch of the South West Coast Path, Sidmouth and Ottery St Mary.
Winner of the marathon was Elizabeth Dyson, 30, from Chudleigh, in a time of 3:20:28. With an off-road course of countryside and the South West Coast Path, this was never going to be a marathon of personal bests.
Elizabeth, of Haldon Trail Runners, had run sections of the course before and won the 2016 Otter Rail and River 10k Run which also starts from Tipton St John: “I thought I’d do the marathon in around four hours so I’m surprised I did such a good time especially as I probably set off a bit too fast. The route is just lovely, with the beautiful coast and amazing scenery. Would I do it again? Yes, definitely!”
Second home was Jessica Raynor, 32, from Sidmouth, who ran 3:53:24 despite not being able to do much training: “I had a baby boy, Artie, nine weeks ago!” she said. “It’s been a brilliant event, amazingly marshalled. If there was another one I reckon I’d do it again.”
Laura Swanton from Brampford Speke finished third in 3:57:12: “It’s a beautiful course but I found the last eight miles quite tough. A really lovely day though.”
To enable as many women as possible to take part, Women Can also had a relay category and a Nordic Walking race. The relay was won by Serane Stone from Uffculme and Sam Beare from London, in 3:57:46, while Betsy Bebbington from Teignmouth was the first Nordic walker home in 5:56:54.
Betsy, of Torbay Athletic Club, was going to run the marathon but injury meant she had to enter the Nordic Walking event instead: “It meant I could take in the views, which I don’t usually get to do and I really enjoyed it because it was the most beautiful course I’ve ever been on,” said Betsy.
Among those taking part was Paula Downing from Mablethorpe Running Club in Lincolnshire, who was running the 82nd of her targeted 100 marathons: “I was born in 1967 so although this was a long way to come, I really wanted to do it. This is my 82nd marathon and the first women only one,” added Paula, who hopes to complete her ‘ton’ of marathons next year: “I didn’t take up marathon running until my late 30s but in the past few years I’ve been doing 16 or 17 a year!”
The main sponsorship for Women Can came from Exeter-based IT and telecommunications company IP Office Ltd. It’s hoped it will fund a local legacy for girls in sport. Diane Collett, from the family-owned firm, chose to take part in a paired relay team in the event despite having the chance to watch Exeter City, who the company also sponsors, playing in the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley.
Women Can received the backing of Team GB’s five-time Olympian and 2014 European 10,000m champion Jo Pavey, who lives locally.
And Women Can became the first UK partner event for Kathrine Switzer’s non-profit social women’s running movement, 261 Fearless®.
The event was also raising awareness about and money for the international Free to Run charity, which has programmes to enable women to take part in sport in countries where traditionally, women are banned from doing so.
Women Can was the brainchild of experienced marathon runner Jo Earlam, who lives in Tipton St John. Helping Jo see her dream come to fruition was race director Pauline Beare and planning assistant Peg Wiseman. Jo and Peg joined the other 400 women in running the marathon. Afterwards Jo said: “It was absolutely incredible. When I came up with the idea 12 months ago, somebody said we’d probably only get half a dozen entries!
“So to have 400 women from across the country and around the world come and take part is beyond my wildest dreams. The amount of positive support has been totally overwhelming. And it’s just been a wonderful, wonderful day.”
So, what are the chances of a second Women Can marathon? “Lots of people are asking us that and we’re definitely talking about it.” Watch this space!
And finally - a huge thank you to everyone who took part and to all of those who volunteered and helped to make Women Can 2017 such a fabulous event. :-)
For official photos, visit www.monikabajor.com
WOMEN CAN MARATHON 2017 - THE RESULTS