Women Can Marathon – countdown to May 27 continues

Women Can Marathon action. Picture Monika Bajour Photography

Women Can Marathon action. Picture Monika Bajour Photography - Credit: Archant

Women Can Marathon – for the modern woman it’s a perfect ‘fit’!

The first women-only marathon in Devon has been found by university researchers to be a perfect ‘fit’ for the modern active woman’s lifestyle in its challenging off-road route, supportive atmosphere and part in social history.

The study by a team from Cardiff University into the inaugural Women Can event last year said participants had found it a positive alternative to a mixed gender race, reporting direct health and wellbeing benefits to the 300 plus women who took part.

It backs up the overwhelming feedback from runners who praised the atmosphere, support and challenge of the race, and the inspiration behind it.

Some participants concluded that it met a niche market, widening participation for women in sport and empowering those who might have otherwise felt excluded from off-road or long-distance running. A relay element enabled women to compete as teams of four or in pairs.

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The multi-terrain event, based at Tipton St John, near Sidmouth, was planned as one-off tribute to an icon of endurance running, Kathrine Switzer - the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967 when it was men only.

The race caught the eye of lead researcher Dr Sara MacBride-Stewart when it received national publicity on International Women’s Day 2017.

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As an off-road runner herself, she devised a study looking at the wellbeing effects of a women-only endurance event in the scenic surroundings of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a challenging Jurassic World Heritage site section of the South West Coast Path.

“I’m really interested in how girls and women use outdoor space and some of the myths there are. Not all women are scared of off-road space. Not all want paths cleared. But women do want to run,” she said.

“The history of women’s running has been about training and competitiveness. These women run for themselves, enjoying the natural environment around them, taking photographs, running in company and with support from others. It’s OK for them to be non-competitive.

“Some of these women get up at 4am to go out on a run because this is the only time they can fit in away from their families and work. They might meet up with others who have a sense of shared community with this kind of idea. What some women achieve to get out on a training run on a regular basis is no small feat.”

The research found that whilst a lot of entrants had been running for more than 10 years, the event provided an opportunity for many first-time women marathoners.

One participant said: “I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by the number of women here today, it’s been incredible. I know a lot of my friends do run, but this - these are just normal women doing these incredible things and it’s really inspiring I think. That’s my general feeling about the whole thing. It’s great that it’s all off-road and gave us the opportunity to experience amazing countryside round here. It’s more that kind of feeling of being part of something with some amazing cool people, that’s what I really loved. It’s all quite emotional actually, especially when you were coming across the line!”

The setting of the race involving several hills, climbs to nearly 800 feet, steep descents, rocky coast path, muddy forest tracks, twisting narrow wooded paths were elements that the women most enjoyed.

“We looked at why these women run off-road and asked what they get from the experience,” said Dr MacBride-Stewart. “We found nature absolutely matters. It’s about the aesthetic, this feeling of being in the beauty of the natural world, almost a sensorial space, what they see and hear, the changing terrain.

The 2018 Women Can Marathon takes place on Sunday, May 27.

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