Women-only marathon a perfect fit

7 March 2018

Women at the Women Can Marathon Devon
Participants in the Women Can Marathon 2017

Researchers found the first women-only marathon to be a perfect ‘fit’ for the modern active woman’s lifestyle.

The report published by Dr Sara MacBride-Stewart, of Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences and Sustainable Places Research Institute, and research assistant Dr Jenny Barnett, focused on the Women Can Run in Devon. They found the challenging, off-road route coupled with a supportive atmosphere to be a positive alternative to a mixed gender race, with direct health and wellbeing benefits for the 329 women who took part.

Dr MacBride-Stewart, who has a keen interest in off-road running, discovered the marathon when it received national publicity on International Women’s Day 2017. The event was organised to mark the 50th anniversary of US athlete Kathrine Switzer becoming the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, in defiance of the ‘no women allowed’ rules.

Feedback from runners praised the positive atmosphere, support and challenge of the race. Participants who were interviewed cited improved mood, feeling fitter and feeling better about themselves as a consequence of running and walking.

The 26.2-mile route, set in the East Devon Area of Outstanding National Beauty, included several hills, climbs to nearly 800 feet, steep descents, rocky coast path, muddy forest tracks, and twisting narrow wooded paths. This location was determined as being the main reason for why women chose to take part.

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

“This sense of being surrounded by nature, the more you can be immersed in it, explore, have a sense of adventure, it’s really beneficial. Running off road teaches you flexibility, it requires you to be adaptive. It reflects how we have to be in our modern world as working women."

Women running the Women Can Marathon 2017
Participants in the Women Can Marathon 2017

Also cited as a key reason for taking part was the event being open to women only, and celebrating women’s participation in sport.

A participant of the event told researchers: “When I first started I was nervous to run in front of men. That sounds ridiculous and funny now I’m used to it, but a lot of people starting out get nervous to run in front of men. […] Having races like this makes women feel empowered to get up and do it. More things like this would be good.”

Dr MacBride-Stewart and Dr Barnett said of the event: “Any events that challenge perceptions and increase participation are generally viewed in a positive light, fitting with wider activity agendas. While there are other models that can generate the atmosphere and feeling experienced here, the participants of this event verify that there is something a bit different about it being women only.”

The 2018 Women Can Run will take place on Sunday 27th May 2018.

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