Born to Run: the first female marathoners

Back in 2016, 25,766 women were pounding the pavement at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, sweating their way to the finish line. The kilometres ahead the only thing standing between them and victory.

Rewind a few decades—1966 to be exact. Roberta Louise “Bobbi” Gibb decided to run in the Boston Marathon, with a few more obstacles stacked against her. The rules, social norms and expectations forbade women from entering the race. Yet, under the guise of a male runner, she ran and finished the race. She holds the title of first woman to run in a marathon, unofficially.

One year later, in 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official numbered entry.

These women paved the way female runners to join the world stage. But, it wasn’t until 1984 that a women’s marathon was introduced to the Summer Olympics. Joan Samuelson ran that year, and holds the title for first-ever women’s Olympic marathon champion. She still holds the time fastest times for an American woman at the Chicago Marathon and the Olympic Marathon.

Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we want to honour the women who set the pace for today’s female runners, and the women who continue to set records and break down barriers.

Runners like London, Ontario-born Lanni Marchant who in October 2013 set the record for Canadian women’s marathon in Toronto with a time of 2:28:00. And who at the 2016 Olympics in Rio—and not without some struggle—became the first Canadian woman to compete in the 10,000m and the marathon at the same Olympic Games.

The multi-talented Marchant, who also works as a trial lawyer in Tennessee, has not only become one of Canada’s strongest runners (male or female) but also an outspoken advocate for women’s running and the rights of female athletes. She earned herself the cover spot of iRun’s “the Future is Female” issue in Wonder Woman-inspired running kit.

“Marchant’s success continues to be an inspiration for women everywhere,” says Susan Marsh, Marketing Director at Ottawa Marathon. “Her place on the Olympic team has no doubt inspired the next generation of girls to lace up their shoes and set new records.”

At Run Ottawa, we are proud that women represent more than half of all of our participants, and honoured that our event serves as a venue for women – from first-time runners to the world’s best like Marchant – to reach new finish lines.

Are you ready to join them this year? Sign up today!