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RUNNERS


Despite being in her 40s, Smith was at the vanguard of women’s distance running


needed a British winner, and Smith provided that heroine. Her time of 2:29:57 was the first time a British woman had gone below the magic two-and-a- half hour mark. It was a line in the sand for her compatriots to aim for. And remains to this day a goal for many elite women runners. She was back on the roads she knew


other major championships and include the 3,000m (her favourite track event) in its roster until 1984. Smith broke the world record for the distance in 1971, and claimed the bronze medal in the first championship 3,000m race at the 1974 European Championships in Rome. She would have been a live contender in Montreal in 1976 had the authorities been accommodating, having also claimed an International Cross Country title, but it was not to be. In 1978, she retired from the track after setting a new world veterans record for the 3,000m of 9:11.2, which stood for some 27 years.


A pioneer for women’s marathon running Smith ran her first marathon in 1979, five years before the classic event was given Olympic status for women, and showed what might have been by breaking the British record held by Rosemary Cox by


over nine minutes. Single-handedly Smith brought British marathon running into world-class with a time of 2:41:37 – within 10 minutes of the world best recognised by the IAAF set by Norway’s Grete Waitz in New York. At this time, women’s distance running


was exploding into life and, despite being in her 40s, Smith was at the vanguard. In 1979 and 1980 she won the first two editions of the Tokyo Marathon. The second of those victories was accorded world record status by the Association of Road Race Statisticians, who argued that Waitz’s time in the Big Apple was over a short course. Earlier, in 1980, she had set a new British 25k record of 1:28:18 in Bruges, which was also a world veterans mark that stood for over two decades.


Despite all these accolades, it was the inaugural London Marathon that brought Smith to the attention of the wider sporting public. The new venture


RUNNING FREE n 47


so well a year later, and won again, taking 14 seconds off her UK record at the age of 44. She remains the oldest winner of the race. The acceptance of road running in global championships came too late for Smith. She was ninth in the first world title race in Helsinki in 1983 and 11th a year later in Los Angeles, as finally the five-ringed circus admitted that women could successfully run the ultimate distance. She retired from competitive running in 1986 after setting a new over-45s record for 10 miles of 55:33. For many female distance runners Smith was an inspiration. The road running superstars of today have a lot to thank the likes of her and Waitz for, while the administrators of the past should acknowledge that they failed to recognise the talent and determination of the trailblazers of the women’s marathon.


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