The Devon village of Tipton St John was the centre for the Women Can Marathon and Relay on Sunday 27th May – once again a tremendous event with wide community support and sponsored for a second year by telecommunications company IP Office Limited.
Anyone in the village over the bank holiday weekend could hardly fail to miss the sight of more than 280 runners arriving to collect their numbers on Saturday, some camping overnight, assembling on the field Sunday morning, setting off in high spirits and arriving tired but mostly still chatting and smiling between approximately four and 12 hours later.
It was a huge logistical operation with two large marquees provided by Brooklands Events, who also did general catering, four vehicles and crews on first aid from Alliance-Pioneer, more than 3,000 litres of water provided by South West Water in a bowser and large bottles, nine water stations on the route, another 70 marshal positions, a handful of people marking out on foot across three days, the village hall turned into a centre for registration and the field turned into race HQ.
Women travelled from around the world, including the USA and Sweden, as part of the 261 Fearless community, which was set up by the iconic marathon runner Kathrine Switzer, the inspiration for the 2017 event. Others walked from their own village doorstep or made the short drive from Ottery and Sidmouth.
The stunning rural off-road course – which takes in the River Otter, coast path to Sidmouth, inland to Ottery and back down the river – can be completed in a relay team of three or four, as a paired half marathon or the full distance.
The first runners back were a speedy relay team, appropriately called the Fabulous Four, consisting of Lauren Burd, Diana Mills, Jen Dixon and Serane Stone, who arrived home in 3:42.
The first full marathon runner was Catherine Cole, of Haldon Trail Runners, in 3:50:45, closely followed by Jess Raynor, of Sidmouth Running Club in 3:51:56, and in third place Alice Wyatt in 3:56:06. Fourth was Lynda Hembury of Tring RC in 4:06:30, fifth Anthea Board of Haldon Trail Runners in 04:07:53, and sixth Elizabeth Bebbington of Torbay AAC in 04:08:10.
In other categories the first relay team of three were Emma Cooling, Charis Hughes and Chrissy Howick in 4:49:19, paired relay Susan Holmes and Rebecca Gammon “Buns on the Run” in 04:04:32, and first Nordic walker Penny Wilkinson in 6:38:49.
All but one group completed within the event cut off time of 6pm. Spectators stayed on and the finish gantry was left intact to welcome home Netty Stevens and friends. Netty, who’s blind, was accompanied by a guide runner, on what was her first marathon.
Celebrity back marker and running author Lisa Jackson also stayed with the group and said cheerfully it was a record PW for her, personal worst!
She spoke of how much she’d enjoyed it: “The Women Can Marathon is one you’ll never forget. Yes it’s got hills the size of mountains, puddles the size of lakes, and plenty of gnarly forest tracks just waiting to trip up the unwary, but it’s also got some of the world’s smiliest marshals, some of the planet’s most spectacular scenery (think red cliffs, pebbled beaches, tranquil forests, rolling farmland) and an after-party with a live band that’ll tempt you to dance away your blisters. It’s not an easy course, but the organisers welcome one and all and if you’re up for a challenge, this should definitely be on your bucket list.”
A tremendous cheer went up as the group crossed the line 11 hours, 40 minutes after setting off. Then it was time to relax with a hog roast and great music from local bands, under a wonderful sunset and nearly full moon.
There was a huge sense of relief for organisers who’d been on the go that morning since 5am, dealing with the aftermath of storm damage on the course the previous night, signs being tampered with or removed, six call outs for first aid, a runner being attacked by three dogs, all in addition to many other jobs.
It would be impossible to put on an event of this scale without community support and it was tremendous to have so many people involved. Everyone was vital to its success from making cups of tea and providing cake, to standing on a marshal post for hours on end. The feedback from runners has been overwhelming with praise and appreciation.
One wrote: “Thank you all, the three heroic main organisers, and the wonderful marshals and volunteers for an amazing event. There may have been panic attacks and frantic disaster control behind the scenes, but to me it was fantastically well organised, and ran smoothly. I enjoyed the day immensely, even the running, and can’t thank you enough for the experience.”
Deborah Halliday Mills, who made the trip from the USA especially, said: “I was in awe of this experience. So often, we runners focus only on our time. Or our pace. Or whether we met our goals for the race. We get disappointed and see ourselves as failures if we have a sub-par performance. This day was different. This day cemented in my mind why I run. And why I love to run.”
Event administrator Jo Earlam said: “It was another amazing and magical day. I wondered if it would be possible to capture the spirit that made 2017 special. As people began to arrive I knew the buzz and passion was there and it remained the whole weekend.
“As a women-only marathon, what that brings is a deep sense of shared determination to help each other through the challenges a marathon presents. Our race organising team want to empower and enable everyone who enters to complete. I comforted and encouraged several runners on route and was thrilled when they crossed the line, as were they, and among the runners there was a lot of support and camaraderie.
“It’s not about being better than someone else, it’s about being better doing it together. We put on a 26.2-mile event, with relay options, across beautiful but challenging terrain, that saw the first woman give her all to cross the line in 3:50, to the last competitor a blind runner, completing a marathon for the first time. She was on her feet, with her guide and friends, for 11 hours, 40 minutes. Incredible. I’m proud and delighted we did that, and we did it because if women can, they will.
“It was wonderful to have women from the local area and around the world take part. We had fabulous support from the community and local running groups in providing marshals and volunteers that enabled the event to take place. Our race director Pauline Beare did a tremendous job pulling everything together.
“We also had great backing from the business community, especially our headline sponsor IP Office and the many businesses who contributed to event resources and goody bags.
“It is an expensive event to put on, because of all the equipment and race support that’s needed, but we hope to have raised some money for and awareness of our four charities – Women in Sport, Force Cancer Exeter, BRACE Alzheimer’s Research and the Exeter Dementia Action Alliance.”
Partner organisations for the event were 261 Fearless and LED Leisure. IP Office Limited was headline sponsor and head office team members helped directly over the weekend.
Several businesses gave support and sponsorship: marquee provider Brooklands Events; winner glass vases by Dartington Crystal; and race medals, numbers and trophies by Running IMP. Goody bag and prize suppliers were Portlebay Popcorn, Burts Chips, Luna Bars, Vitabiotic Wellwoman drinks, Miles Tea, Jo Yo’s Avon, Otter Brewery, Cotswold Outdoor, Darts Farm, Chocolate Pizza Company, Lyme Bay Winery, Willie’s Chocolate, and Fields of Sidmouth; T-shirts were by Watteva of Exeter.
Water was provided by South West Water; cups on route supplied by Vegware; marshal rolls by Sainsbury’s Ottery St Mary and staff manned a water station. Other water stations were run by members of Women on the Go, Sidmouth Plastic Warriors, Plastic Free Ottery, members of Sidmouth Running Club, LED Ottery gym girls, Tipton Garage staff and Tipton St John Football Club. Water and other equipment was transported by Devon and Cornwall 4 X 4.
Sidmouth Rugby Football Club was the halfway point and manned by club volunteers, with Sid Valley Radio in attendance here broadcasting live.
Members of Honiton, Sidmouth, South West Road Runners and other local running clubs were marshals, did course marking, clearance and route-checking. Gazebos and tables were provided by Ottery St Mary Town Council. The event was licensed and supported by the Association of Running Clubs.
Photographs were taken at the start and on the course by Jon and Chris Woodcock, Tony Velterop and Dan Grey, and at the finish by Monika Bajor.
Finisher photographs will be available soon and can be bought online at Monika Bajor Photography http://www.monikabajor.com/
You can support our run fundraising by donating at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/womencan2018
You can still purchase copies of Private Eye illustrator Tony Husband’s signed, limited-edition cartoon print, through a £10 donation to the Justgiving site, email your address to jo@and a copy will be posted to you.
Details of finisher photos and further news updates will be posted on our Facebook page
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