When I heard about the Women Can race, a women only trail marathon (with the option of a relay) to celebrate 50 years since Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially complete the Boston Marathon, I was in. This was a real landmark in women’s sport and one to be celebrated. And the location, Devon, with its rolling hills and trails galore to make any trail runner happy.
The Women Can Marathon was the brainchild of Jo Earlam – marathon runner, fundraiser and event organiser. This race also coincided with 50 years since the foundation of outdoor sport in the East Devon village of Tipton St John, the year its community-owned playing field was established.
When a member of my club read about the event in the Guardian, we got organised and set up teams for the relay – no better way to spend a Bank Holiday weekend. And the added bonus for me was the international charity partner for the race was Free to Run – the same organisation I’d raised money for running the London Marathon. My sponsor page is still open and is here.
The great thing is, there was no pressure. This wasn’t about time, this was about celebrating and having a fab time. I made the decision to do this as a training run rather than a race in prep for my 50k in July.
We arrived on the Saturday, some folk camping and others like me staying in a local B&B. After lots of pasta, we headed back to the B&B.
I didn’t spend much time looking at the course map – I knew from a previous trip in the area that there were going to be hills – knowing too much much detail beforehand wouldn’t help ease my fears. I went in to this knowing there would be walking involved. I’m trying to get into the groove of long distance trails runs – it’s a different headspace where walking is not seen as a ‘failure’ or ‘lack of fitness’ – when it comes to hills, it’s the sensible thing to do.
After breakfast, we headed down to the start. I was doing the second half of the relay and so all I needed to do was cheer on at the start. And what a great start it was – hundreds and hundreds of women excited and eager to get going, partners and children supporting and cheering on. And off they headed.
Five of us then headed to Sidmouth where our part of the relay would start. After walking along the seafront, we headed to the start line at the football club where we stood in a pen waiting for our relay partners to complete their half. Two of our five headed off first and then we did about 10 mins later.
From the club, we headed along the seafront to claps and cheers from marshals, locals and tourists, and headed inland. The first mile or so was flat and then we hit the trails, then the hills. These are not the types of hills I’m used to in London. For runners like me, it’s time to walk and even that was tough. And then there were more hills. The downhills on the trails were as hard as the ups. I’m not experienced with trails so flying down wasn’t a good choice.
The scenery made up for the effort. The views are stunning.
There were marshals right along the route and stations every 5k or so handing out water a variety of sweets and chocs. There was more running, a lot of walking, up and downs hills, along trails, roads and footpaths and Fran, Linda and I stuck together.
It was tough going.
And what I will remember from those 13.1 miles?
There’s so much but the abiding memory was a downhill on a road where I felt like I was flying – my legs going faster and faster with no fear, just pure joy. I was running and laughing and it’s these moments when I feel most alive. OK, so anyone who saw me may have thought I was a little insane but who the hell cares.
And coming to the finish, where our relay partners joined us for the last 50 metres or so.
A fantastic race. A fantastic weekend. So my quads currently hate me but it was all worth it!
Would I do this race again?
- This has a very different feel to big road races – that’s to be expected. The spirit of the event and the support along the course was amazing and second to none.
- Number pick up was easy and quick – no faffing and no queues.
- Well stocked stations along the route.
- Enough portaloos a the start and toilets at the relay handover point as well as along the route.
- Clear instructions for those doing the relay – it was clear where we needed to be when.
- Runners supported other runners and there was a real mix of ages and paces.
- Fantastic marshals and a well marked route – there was no getting lost.
- Great medal, goodie bag and a cream tea!