Running has been high on my list of priorities lately – to the point that the obsessive compulsive tag is quite apt.
I’ve done pretty well in my challenge for the mental health charity Mind, to Run Every Day in January, notching up 26 out of 31 days, or an 84% success rate.
Ironically, one of the things that’s diverted me from the physical act of running, is in organising a running event.
The Women Can Marathon is an idea I had in the summer of last year, when I realised that a landmark milestone in women’s endurance running combined with the same year that outdoor sport took off in my home village.
1967 was the year that Kathrine Switzer defied the men-only rules in the Boston Marathon, to be the first woman to officially cross the finish line, despite a race official trying to rip off her bib. (Photo credit: Boston Herald).
This was at a time when women were believed incapable of racing that distance. The resulting publicity, and Kathrine’s own campaigning, opened up a future for women’s running, inconceivable at the time.
In my village the same year a farmer’s riverside meadow was bought by local people to become the well-used, much-loved Tipton St John Playing Field, the heart of outdoor recreation in our community and starting point of our popular Otter Rail and River Run 10km.
The scenery around here is stunning and I’d often pondered a longer distance course taking in the spectacular nearby Jurassic coastline, a World Heritage Site.
Walking my dogs alongside the river one day. Lightbulb moment!
Why don’t we organise a marathon from the playing field to mark this joint 50th anniversary?
Even brighter lightbulb moment!
Why not make it women only to give it a unique and special context, celebrating how far women’s endurance running has come in 50 years, whilst acknowledging that many women are still unable to access sport for a variety of reasons?
And so for the past few months, I’ve been part of small team beavering away to make the Women Can Marathon a reality.
The event is taking off beyond wildest dreams.
In November we received the endorsement of 5-times Olympian Jo Pavey.
Jo has pledged to be there if other commitments allow.
We also received a wonderfully warm-hearted personal video message from Kathrine Switzer herself.
In the last few days Women Can has been named as the first UK partner for her 261 Fearless organisation, which empowers women’s running around the globe.
When I told my husband John of my idea back in May last year, he paused, in supping his Sunday lunchtime pint of beer, and said: “I reckon you’ll only get about half a dozen people interested in that. But give it a try if you want.”
Yesterday our 200th runner signed up. This month our website hit a record high of nearly 5,500 visits.
We have women coming from across the country and around the world. We have women coming from the village, able to walk to the start from their doorstep.
We have women coming who’ve never run a marathon. We have women coming who’ve run dozens. We have women who are challenged by illness or disability. We have women who are trained athletes.
We have women taking part as paired and team relays and also women who are Nordic walking the 26.2 mile distance.
And we have men too, dozens of them pledging help and support in advance, and to act as marshals on the day – our runners may be women, but our event is about being inclusive.
Within the local community excitement is building. People are pitching in to offer accommodation, provide transport, bake cakes, make the tea – pulling together at every level to make this happen.
The goodwill and enthusiasm is incredible.
Shortly we will announce our international charity partner, something we hope will further raise awareness and interest.
Marathons with a big profile are normally the big city events.
This is sport at grassroots level, where it happens in the heart of a community.
We may be small, but we’re equally passionate.
This is the Women Can Marathon from Tipton St John reaching out to the wider world – because by running this event together, perhaps one day all Women Can.