This year, a new UK trail marathon across east Devon will celebrate the spirit of Kathrine Switzer, the woman who took on the chauvinists of running and won
he inaugural Woman Can trail marathon, which starts on a community playing field in the village of Tipton St John, east Devon on 28 May and will attract about 300 women runners and walkers, has illustrious connections. It is the first UK partner event for a global running movement known as 261 Fearless, whose figurehead is the class-act athlete Kathrine Switzer.
Switzer made history in 1967 when, as an amateur athlete with big ambitions, she registered for the world’s oldest road marathon – in Boston, USA – under the name K Switzer. It was, like all long road races, an all-male field, as at the time women weren’t permitted to race over distances farther than 1,500 metres for fear their wombs would drop out. She pinned her number – 261 – on her sweatshirt and started the race alongside her trainer, Arnie, and boyfriend, Tom. When race official Jock Semple spotted the interloper, he tried to manhandle her off the course. Tom barged Semple out of the way.
Shaken but undaunted, Switzer finished the race in 4hr 20min, and kicked off a women’s running revolution. She vowed to be taken seriously as an athlete (she was: her marathon PB is 2hr 51min 37sec, at Boston in 1975); and to win women entry to road marathons (she did: women were admitted to the Boston marathon in 1972, and a women’s marathon event was introduced to the Olympics in 1984).