East Devon’s inaugural Women Can Marathon chooses Free to Run as international charity partner

Jo Pavey with Women Can organisers Pauline Beare, Jo Earlam and Peg Wiseman

Jo Pavey with Women Can organisers Pauline Beare, Jo Earlam and Peg Wiseman - Credit: Archant

‘Many of us take for granted the simple act of putting on our shoes to go outside for a run’ - charity’s president and founder Stephanie Case

Free to Run - Bamiyan Marathon Nov 2016. Photo Madeline Kane

Free to Run - Bamiyan Marathon Nov 2016. Photo Madeline Kane - Credit: Archant

The ‘remarkable’ story of a charity that uses sport to empower women from conflict regions has inspired organisers of East Devon’s inaugural marathon.

Jo Earlam, the brains behind the 26.2 mile race through the Sid and Otter Valleys, announced today (Tuesday) that Free to Run is to become its international partner and says the cause is a ‘perfect match’ for the female-only event.

The Women Can Marathon was launched to mark exactly 50 years since Kathrine Switzer defied convention to become the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon – paving the way for the future – and also to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tipton St John Playing Fields.

Its aim is to encourage women to take part in sporting events and organisers say it is fitting that participants will be raising funds for those in countries where widespread discrimination and traditional beliefs have acted as barriers preventing girls from participating in sport.

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Sidmouth Running Club member and marathon administrator Jo said: “The main inspiration for our event was Kathrine Switzer’s historic Boston run, which captured public imagination at the time and helped prove that women were capable of running 26.2 miles.

“Many thousands of women, of varying speed and ability, now run this distance without restriction and train freely to compete in events around the world.

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“I feel very lucky to be one of them, but I am very aware that some women are not as fortunate and face exclusion - not just from competing in endurance events - but even from training or access to physical activity.

“It’s very fitting that women at our event will be celebrating Kathrine Switzer’s pioneering run and at the same time raising funds towards enabling other women to share and enjoy the same experience.

“In a nutshell, it’s women who can, supporting women who can’t.”

Free to Run has programs running in three different provinces in Afghanistan and one of its recent successes was to enable the first ever Afghan woman to run a full marathon in her own country.

The charity’s president and founder Stephanie Case said: “We’re delighted and honoured to be selected by the Women Can 2017 marathon.

“Many of us take for granted the simple act of putting on our shoes to go outside for a run. However, for many of the young women in our programs, this is their first opportunity to experience moving freely outdoors.

“Such a simple act can truly change a life, and with the support of the Women Can marathon, we’ll be able to help support more women and girls who need it most.”

Pauline Beare, race director of the Women Can Marathon, co-founded the Women’s Running Network in 1998 along with Peg Wiseman.

She said: “The creation of the Women’s Running Network reflected the broad experience of most women wanting to take part in sport – ridicule, snide comments and reference to shape, size, ability or just gender. Only this week in Plymouth, a man walking past my running group remarked ‘ I could walk faster than that!’.”

Peg added: “If that is the response in England in 2017, what chance do women around the globe have in overcoming prejudice? It appears there may never be a time when women don’t have to fight for equality.”

The Women Can Marathon will start and finish at Tipton St John Playing Fields on Saturday, May 27, and has received overwhelming support from the community – with more than 280 participants now signed up as runners, Nordic walkers or relay teams.

Some of the proceeds from the unique event will be invested locally, through the playing field association and in partnership with Active Devon and LED Leisure in improved sports coaching for girls and women.

Women Can was recently announced as the first UK partner event for Kathrine Switzer’s global running organisation, 261 Fearless.

Around 150 marshals and volunteers will be needed on the course, to run water stations and help at the start and finish.

There is a dedicated Justgiving page to support Women Can’s fundraising for Free to Run at www.justgiving.com/womencan2017 and to find out more about the marathon, visit www.womencan.co.uk.

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