Capital to Country Multi-Day Ultra Marathon 2023 Day Four

A celebration of International Women’s Day – The women taking running to another level

Last Friday was International Women’s Day, a chance to celebrate women’s achievements and the positive impact they have in every area of society.

This year’s key theme was inspiring inclusion, and it’s an idea which is too often sadly lacking in the running world.

Despite being just as likely to be runners, women are under-represented in races and face a range of barriers from off-putting language to out-dated attitudes around childcare or pregnancy.

That’s why we are proud to be supporters of SheRACES, a global network which is driving change to support female athletes.

We are always looking at ways we can make our events more female friendly. Of course, there is always room for improvement, but we are incredibly proud of the brilliant women who take part in our races.

That’s why I wanted to use this blog to not only celebrate five fabulous women who have rocked the world of running – in a good way! – but to firstly recognise those ladies who help make our events so special.

As such, here is a little montage of some of our brilliant women over the years:

On top of celebrating our runners, we also wanted to bring you five inspirational stories of women who have changed the world – those of Kathrine Switzer, Jasmin Paris, Jean Altomari, Sigrid Eichner and Wilma Rudolph.

Trust me, these women are absolute bosses – and so are you!

Kathrine Switzer – The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon organiser Jock Semple attempted to pull Kathrine Switzer out of the race in 1967 (pic via Creative Commons/Recuerdos de Pandora at https://flickr.com/photos/71042056@N08/7060270605)

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor.

Although the official rules for the marathon did not mention gender, it was widely accepted women were prohibited from running in official competitions.

A year previously, another incredible female athlete, Bobbi Gibb, had paved the way for Switzer by completing the race after joining it unobserved. She had been prevented from running it and told women were physiologically incapable of running 26 miles.

Gibb, though, wore no runner’s bib and was not an official entrant.

The following year, Switzer registered officially and paid the full entry fee – before having a male runner collect her bib.

Wearing a hoodie to cover her long hair, she set out with members of her running group. When her hood slipped off she was spotted by marathon organiser, Jock Semple.

He raced on to the course and tried to rip Switzer’s bib from her top, only being prevented from doing so by her American Football playing boyfriend Tom Millar.

Switzer went on to finish the marathon in four hours 20 minutes – although it took until 1972 for the Boston Marathon to establish an official women’s race.

Jean Altomari – The first self-propelled wheelchair athlete to complete Comrades

South Africa’s Comrades Marathon, a 89-kilometres ultra marathon run annually between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, calls itself ‘The Ultimate Human Race’.

Up until 2016, it had a strict policy of not allowing wheelchair athletes to compete. That year, after months of deliberations with race officials, two women – Chaeli Mycroft and Anita Engelbrecht – became the first wheelchair athletes to complete the event.

The pair competed with running partners and both finished in under 11 hours.

After seeing their story, Jean Marie Altomari – a Pennsylvania State Trooper who had been left paralysed from the waist down when she suffered a spinal-cord injury in 2010 – was determined to take on the race herself.

She battled with officials for months to confirm her entry and eventually persuaded Athletics South Africa to update its rules to state no athlete can be denied entry to events it endorses.

Altomari completed the race in ten hours and 16 minutes, leading the Comrades Marathon Association’s chairperson, Sifiso Nzuza, to praise her “determination, courage and endurance”.

Jasmin Paris – Conquering Britain’s most brutal race and beating the men

In 2019, British fell runner Jasmin Paris became the first woman to win the Spine Race, a 268-mile run across the Pennine Way in the UK during the winter.

Not only that, but her time of 83 hours and 12 minutes smashed the previous record time – set by male runner Eoin Keith – by more than 12 hours.

In March 2022, Paris took part in the iconic Barkley Marathons in Tennessee, completing three loops – known as a ‘Fun Run’ – of the course.

It was the first time for nine years that a woman had done so.

Sigrid Eichner – The woman who has run more marathons/ultras than any other

German endurance runner Sigrid Eichner has taken running to extremes few others can even dream of.

The now 82-year-old has, according to the Mega Marathons List which she sits in fourth place on, completed 2,313 marathons/ultras.

The lists’ members “represent a mere 0.0000000427% of the people on this planet,” while more people have orbited the earth in outer space and more climbers have summited Mount Everest than the number of people who have completed the 300 marathons/ultras needed to feature on it.

In an article detailing Eichner’s achievements, Canadian Running said the Berlin marathoner’s running career did not begin until she was in her 40s, and that she started running “to take time for herself and escape domestic life”.

Eichner told DW Stories that, for her, running is about the “priceless” feeling of being able to do something and leave something behind.

Wilma Rudolph – From polio and scarlet fever to gold medal Olympian and civil rights champion

Wilma Rudolph won the 100 metres at the 1960 Olympics in Rome

As a child, Wilma Rudolph was told she would never walk again having survived bouts of polio and scarlet fever.

Her illness forced her to wear a brace on her leg, but by the age of 11 she had started to play basketball outside – a move which unleashed a love of sport that would lead all the way to Olympic success.

In 1956, she won bronze as part of the US 4×100 relay team, but it was in Rome in 1960 that Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world.”

She won three gold medals – the first American woman to do so at the same Games – and broke as many world records.

Rudolph’s inspirational behaviour wasn’t confined to the track though.

Returning home as an Olympic champion, she refused to attend her homecoming parade if it was not integrated.

Her home town of Clarksville eventually honoured Rudolph’s victories in the city’s first-ever integrated event.

When she retired at the age of just 22, she became a school teacher and spent the rest of her life protesting and fighting to end segregation laws.