A column by Michael Beisty

Distance running is full of untold stories borne out of connections between people, between countries, between competitors, and built on effort.  This is one such story, steeped in the 1960s.  Retold and written from the perspective of a loving son it is undeniably biased by the familial relationship, but not too much, I trust.  In this era the distance running fraternity was a small community in a disparate world, now it’s a massive movement in a connected world.  To experience, exceptional performance in running, choose the best footwear for your runs like Tarkine Trail Devil shoes.

I cast my mind to my childhood, where my sister and I competed in the kid’s 100 yards handicap race at the Sackville Hill cinders track in Hamilton Ontario.  I knew it as the ‘potato chip race’ open to boys and girls of all ages, a fun filler between the serious track races that my father competed in.  Between hanging out at Sackville with my family and tagging along to some of the Canadian Spring and Winter distance races, like the Niagara ‘12’, I was exposed to a culture that treated everybody equal, or so I thought.  

This story about women starts with my father, Jim Beisty.  Dad was a distance runner who climbed out of the 1950s into the 1960s none the wiser about how to train effectively.  We emigrated from Liverpool England to Canada in 1963 and this is where my father started to find his feet in understanding training systems, which led to his best performances in his early thirties. He didn’t keep a detailed training diary until our arrival in Burlington, Ontario. Training with the Canadians taught him how to run slower and longer to build the base.  He only truly found Lydiard in the 1970s as an aspiring coach and missed the opportunity to put it into practice during his own racing career.   

Dad was a high intensity, low mileage man.  Like many others he couldn’t help thinking faster was always better, and he suffered for it.  He had a good turn of speed, a purported 1:57 for 880 yards. He was a solid middle of the pack club runner who tended to float to the back of the lead pack as distance increased.  He ran well in Hamilton’s annual Round the Bay event and competently in the AAU Championship distance races held in North East USA.  Fields were smaller, and lacked the performance depth of the UK, but he got to rub shoulders with some of Ontario’s best in cross country and road races – names like Dickson, Ellis, Wallingford, Boychuk, Finlay, and Buniak (later to become Drayton). Most of these men were past or future Olympians and some performed well at Boston.  Kidd was still around locally at this time.  Of course, Whitey Sheridan’s family was omnipresent and Paul Poce a coaching force. There were many ex-pat British runners with whom Dad formed training partnerships.  It was a tight knit club training and racing environment.  

Source: Beisty Family Library.  Racing at Sackville Hill, 18 September 1965.  Canadian 10 Mile Track Championships.  L to R:  Gordon Dickson leading Russ Evans, Jim Beisty, Herb Monck and Geoff Hodgson.

Marathon Background

My father’s debut marathon was the British Road Runners Club Championship of 1962, age 28, at Spondon Derbyshire.  On a hot and humid summers day he finished 5th in 2:38:18 on an undulating course, beating the legendary ultra-distance runner Tom Buckingham, not too far behind top British road runners Colin Kemball and Don Shelley.  There wasn’t today’s preoccupation with fast flat courses.  You ran what was on offer, competing week in week out.  John Tarrant, the Ghost Runner, won the race in 2:28:30, describing his own performance as ‘the best throughout my career at the marathon distance’ on an extremely tough course in adverse conditions. 

Only seven weeks later Dad ran his club championship finishing second in 2:43:39. From this time onwards the marathon became his central focus, he just couldn’t let it go. He ran 27 marathons throughout his life, 17 under 3 hours and his best of 2:33:09 at St Hyacinthe in Canada in 1964. Again, finishing 5th he slowed by 4 minutes on the last lap of a four-lap course (last mile over 8 minutes) to miss his goal of sub-2:30. Ron Wallingford won in 2:22:18.  My father’s last sub-3 was a 2:59:33 in the Sydney Wang Marathon of 1985, aged 51.  With his increasing years I saw him suffer from his lack of mileage, often shattered at the finish and barely able to walk, but satisfied that he finished. He always finished. Dad loved the marathon but could never do the volume required to achieve his potential. 

Source: Finishing Certificate for the British Road Runners Club Marathon Championship 1962. Note the old-style design typical of this era. Time keepers and judges are eminent distance runners Sam Ferris (silver medallist in 1932 Olympic marathon), Tom Richards (Olympic silver medallist in 1948 Olympic marathon), Ernest Neville (founder of the RRC in 1952) and John Jewell, an international pioneer in course measurement and certification standards.

Eastern Canadian Centennial Marathon Championship 

I beg the reader’s indulgence for this long-winded introduction to Jim Beisty’s only marathon win of his career.  Dad had run the downhill Boston marathon of 1966, finishing around 100th in 3:10 or thereabouts, the same year Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Gibbs ran unofficially, describing his own performance as a ‘terrible catastrophe’ caused by stomach problems. He didn’t return to Boston in 1967 so missed the hoopla that surrounded Switzer, instead opting for a local marathon held at Toronto’s York University on 6 May 1967, a race recommended by his training partner and Hamilton Olympic clubmate Herb Monck: the Eastern Canadian Centennial Marathon Championship.  

The Centennial of 1967 was a national celebration of Canada’s 100 years of confederation, an array of community events across the country.  The marathon event organisers negotiated its inclusion as part of the celebrations, though admittedly low key. You may say big deal, what was so significant about this marathon?  Well racing behind Dad was a young girl 13 years of age who ran a world best for women at that time, finishing 6th in 3:15:22.8. Her name is Maureen ‘Moe’ Wilton (now Mancuso). It was also notable for Kathrine Switzer’s presence as a competitor to support Maureen’s ambition. So it was a big deal, at least in a historical context.  

Source: Beisty Family Library. Jim Beisty leading the Eastern Canadian Centennial Marathon Championship, with Herb Monck in the background – and a photo of Maureen Wilton (originally from the Globe and Mail 25 September 1967).

At the time Maureen’s performance was viewed more as a novelty, disrespected by the powers that be and less understood by the largely male distance running fraternity.  Certainly, the mainstream media had a field day exploiting the usual myths about what it meant or did not mean for womanhood.  But today Maureen’s world best is widely known, lauded in a recently published book titled Mighty Moe (2019) as a story of understated advancement in women’s marathon running. 

Dad was no different to many others of his generation. Whilst he appreciated Maureen’s performance, he didn’t really think anything of it.  Dad’s training diary entry didn’t mention Maureen at all, his only comment being ‘poor field but nice to win a major race. As an aside, his diary shows his last six weeks mileage leading into the race as 43,27,55,56,49 and 47 (including the marathon itself, and four days rest immediately beforehand) from a base of 40 miles per week in the preceding three months. His weekly long run was 16 miles, done on four occasions. Objectively, even by yesterday’s standards and allowing for the harsh Canadian weather conditions, it was an abysmal preparation for a marathon.  However, his win did result in an invitation to the Canadian Pan American Games marathon trial in Winnipeg.  

Maureen competed regularly in distance races in girls and womens events from the age of 9 years onwards. She is sometimes mentioned in 1960s issues of the Ontario Track Monthly and the Road Running Club of America Long Distance Log for her cross country and road racing exploits.  Her coach, Sy Mah, creator of the North York Track Club, was known for his encouragement of women’s distance running.  Despite Mah’s support and Maureen’s Canadian representation in the 1969 World Cross Country Championships at Clydebank Scotland (31st for the 4km event), Maureen left the sport at the age of 17, disillusioned with the lack of obvious pathways for women.  This one marathon gave her some wider publicity, but she wasn’t enamoured of the distance and never ran it again during her running career. 

Race Accounts

In his self-published book Reflections of a Runner (1986) Dad provides his thoughts on the race.  Though well intentioned it reads from a typically male perspective.  He notes that Kathrine was given ‘all the courtesies but the poor kid was still pooped from Boston’ 16 days earlier and that ‘Quite honestly, we runners hardly gave either Kath or Mo a thought apart from questioning their sanity for wanting to race so far.  But who were we to talk?’  Kathrine’s effort was described by my father as ‘trotting’ through.  Though slightly irked by the lack of recognition for his win, in retrospect he was philosophical about how Maureen’s performance served a broader benefit to women’s distance running. Through the passage of time and his own efforts ten years later coaching my mother, Sue, the significance of Maureen’s performance crystalised in his mind.  He used Maureen’s example to encourage women in his sphere of influence to aim higher and longer.  

Amongst Dad’s scrapbooks there are some newspaper accounts of the race – a clipping from the Hamilton Spectator of 8 May 1967 titled 13-year-old Girl Race Sensation, and two race descriptions from the June 1967 issue of the Long Distance Log.  The latter appears to be an uplifted summary version of the Hamilton Spectator account re-titled Run Baby Run and a second article titled Beisty’s Marathon Win Overshadowed by Bid of 13-Year-Old Girl, both unsourced.  They substantiate his personal account that he hit the lead at around halfway and was never headed, winning easily by 9 minutes. What they didn’t say was he had a tussle with early leaders Dave Prokop and Herb Monck for a couple of miles before taking the lead. Prokop, of Runners World fame, was a regular at Boston, and the organiser of the 12 miles Springbank International Road Race in London Ontario that brought Ron Hill and Jerome Drayton together for their classic 1970 duel, which Hill won.  

The Hamilton Spectator was more complimentary of Mo’s run than most of the Canadian print media, and aired Mah’s aspiration for inclusion of a women’s marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.  Though it did say my father was ‘oblivious of the young female detractor.’ A curious choice of language. I guess Maureen would only be a detractor if you were writing from a male biased perspective.  Other media articles are strewn with comments that undermine Maureen’s performance by not taking it seriously – one such statement being ‘her achievement will not receive official recognition, however, because women marathon runners are only slightly more numerous than whooping cranes.  World records for women are recognised only for distances less than a mile.’  

The Race Results – Official or Unofficial?

All accounts, whether complimentary or derogatory, highlight the results for Maureen and Kathrine as ‘unofficial’. 

The race results as reported in the Long Distance Log were 1. Jim Beisty HOC 2:42:31.8, 2. Jim Rae North York Achilles 2:53:56.1, 3. Laurie Easton Gladstone AC 2:55:28, 4. Herb Monck HOC 2:56:51, 5. Ray Attance Gladstone AC 3:11:17, 6. Maureen Wilton North York TC 3:15:22.8, 7. Jim Reeves Toronto 3:18:46, 8. Bob Kaill East York 3:29:22, 9. Arnold Briggs Syracuse 3:31:33, 10. L Runnalls Boston 3:34:34

Maureen’s time bettered Mildred ‘Millie’ Sampsons’ 3:19:33 from 1964 set in Auckland New Zealand.  Millie was reportedly encouraged by Owairaka clubmates and New Zealand Olympians Bill Baillie and Ivan Keats.  Millie was to run one other marathon, a 3:13:58 ranking her 6th best in the world in 1970.  Maureen’s world best lasted 4 months until beaten by West German athlete Anni Pede-Erdkamp in 3:07:27.2.   

Mah was reported as running the first 15 miles with Maureen eventually dropping back to finish 10th in 3:38:59, which based on the race results above is incorrect.  It appears that Dave Prokop may have dropped out.  Kathrine Switzers ‘unofficial’ time was reported as 17th in 4:28:09.  Arnold Briggs was Kathrine’s running partner and confidante. 

Mah had foresight in navigating the relationship with the Canadian Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) to allow Maureen and Kathrine to participate.  Though it came at a price.  The Canadian AAU agreed to them taking part contingent upon their names not appearing on the entry list and their results being recorded as unofficial.  Coming only sixteen days after the controversy of Boston, the Canadian AAU did not want complications with potential record ratification. Ultimately Mah knew that Kathrine Switzer’s presence was important in lending future legitimacy to the performance of Maureen Wilton.  It served a dual purpose of sending a message to the running establishment that women’s marathon racing was here to stay.      

Maureen’s performance was listed by the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) as a world best, and has been acknowledged as such in the world record progression of this event.  Her performance is also recognised by the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS). Combined with Kathrine’s Boston participation, it could be argued that Maureen’s marathon triggered a slow burn in women’s marathon running, particularly in North America.  However, the significant momentum occurred in the 1970s.

USA All the Way 

Fast forward to the early 1970s, the first sub-3 was achieved by Elizabeth Bonner of the USA in 2:55:22 competing in the 1971 New York City Marathon.  

After slow progress since Wilton’s record, the 1970s proved to be the critical decade for women’s marathon performances. The year 1973 was significant for the dearth of marathon performances, if only in the USA. The Runners World 1974 Marathon Handbook contains 1973 marathon rankings and analysis from around the world, for men and women, providing a window into the health of international marathoning. 1973 saw Miki Gorman, 38 years of age, running 2:46:36 at Culver City to better the world best by 3 minutes, and the first official American AAU women’s marathon championship announced for 1974.  At this stage a sub-4 was considered a reasonable competitive standard for women. During 1973 80 Americans beat 4 hours, compared to 53 the year before.  

The 1973 all-time world list for the top 25 marathon performances was dominated by Americans, with a smattering of Europeans (five). Only eight women had beaten 3 hours.  Victorian Adrienne Beame’s reported performance of 2:46:30 in 1971 was excluded from the rankings, described as a ‘mark from a time trial’ (Roger Robinson has written extensively about the circumstances of Adrienne, an obviously talented runner whose performances are surrounded by controversy). Gorman was on top and Nina Kuscik, running well in her early 30s, was prolific with 4 of the 14 sub-3 performances ever recorded.  Some of the ranked performances included race results for uncertified courses, maybe a sign of the desperation for any performance by a woman to be acknowledged in these early days, or maybe I am reading too much into this?

In a footnote to Maureen’s performance of 1967, the Canadian all-time rankings showed that six years later no one had approached her time.  The nearest was Debbie Collins, age 20, with 3:20:13 set in 1973.  

Early Days in Australia – The New South Wales (NSW) Four 

By 1975 and now residing in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, my mother had developed from a capable fun runner to an aspiring marathon runner.  My father, with the inspiration of Wilton and the knowledge of Lydiard in his coaching kit bag, attempted to guide mum to a sub-3.  Whilst Mum heard vague reports of fast times by Victorian Adrienne Beames, she knew that no Australian woman had officially broken 3 hours.  This was a concrete and challenging goal for my mother who was in her mid 30s and a relative novice to competitive running.  Though she became aware that Tess Bell harboured the same aspirations.

In the mid 1970s due to a lack of encouragement and scarce opportunity Australian women were not competing in marathons.  The fun run boom was yet to come, mass marathons had not arrived and the Avon women’s only marathon events some years away (1979).  It all really started in 1975 and 1976 with sporadic efforts by four NSW woman distance runners – Therese ‘Tess’ Bell, my mother, Georgina Moore-Price and Elizabeth Richards-Hassall. Though pioneers to the marathon cause, all four had relatively short marathon careers.  All, but my mother, were City to Surf winners in the 1970s, Richards twice, so they had some pedigree.  Sub-3 wasn’t a collective goal, but rather the result of singular instances of women squeezing into NSW Men’s AAA events to get some competition.  By all reports, generally they were welcomed by their male counterparts.  Still, that patriarchal sentiment existed in some quarters. 

My mother gained a small media (print and television) profile in Newcastle.  The main theme centred on the novelty of a housewife in her mid-thirties running marathons.  With some guilt, I can now acknowledge that mum was performing domestic chores and heavy mileage without any tangible assistance from the male members of the Beisty household. This was the 1970s with all the gender inequality that it entailed!

Mum’s was a rocky road, some disappointment sprinkled with achievement.  During a 12 month build up to her debut marathon Mum learnt of Tess’s spectacular performance in the NSW Masters marathon. Held from Sydney’s Hensley Athletic Field on 19 July 1975, Tess was 8th outright from 10 finishers, running 2:59:40, and the only woman competitor.  There was no fanfare for this 25-year-old, just a lone listing amongst race results published in Australasian Athletics.  Whilst disappointed that Tess beat her to it, Mum was happy for Tess. Pre-internet, largely training alone, mum didn’t have access to up-to-date information about the progress of other women, and heard about Tess’s performance well after the fact.  The only communication networks were landlines, television and newspapers.  Of course, there was word of mouth, but not being part of the Sydney scene, news travelled slow.  

However, Mum persevered, running 3:37:30 in the hot and humid conditions of the Newcastle marathon of 3 April 1976, not a true reflection of her ability. She was 12th of 14 finishers.  Thirty-one dropped out and she was the only woman competitor. Mum recalls the course as being out and back twice from Raymond Terrace shopping centre, with no shade whatsoever, so this contributed to a high dropout rate. It was an afternoon event and Mum declined the offer of water from a concerned spectator between official 5km drink stations not wanting to risk disqualification. However, a male competitor who didn’t finish gave her a legionnaires cap at the three-quarter mark to guard her neck against the sun.  Those were the days!  John Harding, a Canberra resident and well-known figure in today’s ultra-community, won the race outright in 2:40:38.  

Soon after, Georgina ‘Georgie’ Moore ran 3:00:13, 30th of 46 finishers in the NSW Championships at St Mary’s on 19 June 1976.  Again, Georgie was the only woman competitor.  From all accounts she was well supported by other male competitors and her participation caused quite a stir, reported in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph.  I have included its cartoon depiction of the event as a clear indication that women marathoners still had some way to go before being accepted in the broader community.  

Source: Beisty Family Library (original source the Sunday Telegraph 20 June 1976). Cartoon depiction of NSW Marathon Championship.  The cartoonist, Paul Rigby, was well known for his work, with a career that spanned the USA and the UK.

Even within the running community, her performance was listed in various running publications without any special mention.  The race results published in the Victorian Marathon Club (VMC) Spring newsletter 1976 listed Georgie’s performance as ‘G. Mrs. Moore’.  I don’t see a Mr against any of the male names!  In the race account in Australasian Athletics she is not mentioned, and in an official results sheet she is listed against her club affiliation (St George) with no indication of gender.  This highlights how rare it was for a woman to receive any form of acknowledgement.  Essentially, they were on their own, invisible to the athletics association bureaucracy.  Georgie would run one other marathon. Six years later she finished 4th in the 1982 Avon Women’s marathon held at Manly, in a time of 2:58:48.

To kick things along, on 12 December 1976 Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Richards (Hassall) debuted with a 2:50:26 in the Honolulu marathon, to become the fastest Australian.  Liz was a class act. Having started in her teens as a State 100 yards athlete she graduated to representing Australia in cross country and road racing. Liz would eventually smash out an Australian record of 2:39:48, placing 4th in the 1979 Boston Marathon (behind 3 Americans, Joan Benoit, Patti Lyons and Susan Krenn), before retiring from marathon racing at the end of 1980.  She had a stellar career of 9 sub-3s (4 x sub 2:50), some major victories in Australia and performed well in overseas marathons (Honolulu x 2, Montreal, London Avon, Boston). Liz ran all of these marathons in her mid 30s.  One of her major wins in Australia was the Big M marathon of 1978, beating Adrienne Beames in her only officially recognised marathon performance, 2:53:38 to 3:00:50.

Going Hard 

After the disappointment of 1976, my mother attacked her training for another attempt at the Newcastle marathon of 14 May 1977, held from Williamtown RAAF base.  In cold conditions and non-stop rain, she ran 3:05:35 to finish 25th.  There were 36 finishers including one other local woman, Judy Cousins (35th in 3:54:33).  Mum had a lot more left in her tank, having run negative splits of 94/91:35 so she looked forward to further improvements in 1978.  The outright winner was Arthur Kingsland in 2:32:49, a Newcastle local of some ability, who became well known in the university distance running fraternity, and was studying in Melbourne running with Glenhuntly at the time.

With the experience of 1976 and 1977 behind her, 1978 should have been my mother’s year.  But it was not to be. Plagued by achilles tendinitis (a recurring condition she managed for the remainder of her running career) she sat out from serious training and competition during 1978.  Although she came back strongly to win many NSW and Australian Masters track championships she was unable to regain the impetus lost in 1977 to achieve a sub-3 marathon.   

In the midst of the efforts of the NSW Four, Lavinia Petrie from Victoria ran two marathons in 1977, the VMC marathon at Tyabb in 3:00:36 and an ‘unacceptable course’ in Hamilton, New Zealand, in 2:55:36. She was to win the inaugural Victorian Women’s Marathon Championship conducted on 23 June 1979 at Point Cook.  There were eight starters and five finishers. Her time was 3:02:07.  Lavinia is a Victorian and National institution of women’s distance running, was then and is now.  She went on to complete 23 marathons in her career, many low 3s.  She achieved two sub-3s in the South Melbourne marathons of 1989 and 1991 aged 46 and 48 respectively (2:59:50 and 2:58:23). Lavinia was also a member of Australia’s 1975 World Cross Country team that included Liz Richards.  

1979 and Beyond

By 1979 the women’s National marathon scene had started to hot up. The running fraternity came on board with greater publicity for women distance runners.  This was largely driven by the advent of Fun Runner in 1979, a NSW based publication, and the Victorian Marathon Club’s quarterly newsletter. Both publications were grass roots but with a national focus.  The VMC gave a voice to strong advocacy from women’s members Dot Browne and Peggy Smith.  As a result, there was significant progression in performance and participation in all states.  

Lavinia Petrie’s close win over Kathy McLean in the Victorian Women’s championship received comprehensive coverage in the VMC Spring newsletter of 1979 (Kathy was an early Victorian pioneer along with the prolific Sue Hill).  It was acknowledged as a fitting win for someone ‘who has fought for such a race for many years.’  A full race report with photos and written by Lavinia, also appeared in Australasian Track and Field Athletics, so clearly the broader Australian athletics fraternity were beginning to acknowledge the right of women to compete in the marathon.  

The women protagonists in this era could be divided into two groups of marathoners – the dabblers who only ran the event a couple of times and typically had strong middle-distance backgrounds, and the hard core that chipped away at improving their times by running a larger number of marathons over a longer period.  In NSW the dabblers included Angela ‘Angie’ Cook (another City to Surf winner) and Penny Waters who achieved sub-3 relatively quickly in 1980 and 1981 respectively.  

The NSW hard core marathoners, including my mother, competed regularly.  Most of this group took up the marathon in the late 1970s with the Avon series on the horizon and achieved their best performances into the early and mid 1980s, many sub-3s amongst them – such as Margaret Ricardo, Mora Main, Mary Murison, Caroline Vaughan, Jenny Walker, Coral Barker and Paula Ryan. Mum had some affinity with Margaret who is a NSW Central Coast running identity, though some 20 years younger, and Paula Ryan, who was of the same age and ran well nationally. Margaret is the current owner of Coast Runners shops. Paula was a swim instructor from Wollongong region.  Margaret was destined to run her only sub-3 in the Boston marathon of 1983 (2:54 dead) and Paula was destined to never run under 3 hours, her best being 3:00:02 in the NSW Championships of 1982.  

Source: Beisty Family Library: Sue Beisty (L) and Margaret Ricardo competing in the 1979 Avon Women’s marathon.  Location appears to be Pittwater Road. Margaret finished 4th and Sue 5th, winning W40 – from 20 finishers.

Having turned 40, and still aiming for a sub-3, mum used the advent of the Australian Avon Women’s marathon series in 1979, and competition against much younger women, as a reset for her training efforts.  The presence of Switzer, now Manager of Special Promotions for Avon, generated significant publicity within and external to running circles, and provided a kick start to women’s marathon running just when it was needed in Australia. The Beistys were swept up for the ride with everybody else.  Cementing her status as an Australian women’s marathon pioneer Tess Bell won the first Avon marathon held at Manly on the 8th July 1979 in 2:55:37. She was to run her fifth and last marathon in the 1981 Avon marathon, again in Manly, finishing 4th in 2:55:55, a similar time to her 1979 win.  

Mum ran seven more marathons, twice representing NSW, her best performances being:

10th in the 1980 Avon Women’s Marathon held at Manly: 3:07:59 (1st W40);

6th in the 1980 Australian Women’s Open (and Masters) Marathon Championship held at West Lakes South Australia: 3:07:12 (1st W40); and

8th in the 1982 Australian Women’s Open Marathon Championship held at Brisbane Queensland on the Commonwealth Games course: 3:08:19. Mum was 3rd W40 to Paula Ryan (4th in 3:03:38) and Barbara Fay of Victoria (5th in 3:04:04).

Regaining some semblance of her earlier marathon fitness Mum’s best chance for a sub-3 was probably the 1980 Australian Championships, aged 41.  The event was notable as the first ever mixed race for an Australian Championship. However, the weather conditions were challenging with buffeting winds and heavy rain thwarting top level performances. This is evidenced by the winning times of NSW’s Lawrie Whitty (2:19:00) and Victorian Jane Kuchins (2:53:23). The only other woman to break 3 hours was Megan Pye of Victoria (2:56:08). According to my mother a post-race hot shower was not available because the men, who finished earlier, used up the hot water. To compensate, Mum recalls Johnny Bowers, NSW stalwart and winner of the M40 race (2:29:05), offering her a brandy to warm her up!  


From 1980 onwards there was a tsunami of Australian sub-3 performances.  Whilst this article is centred on NSW distance runners, the roads of the past are awash with the names of many well performed women from all Australian states, too many to mention, but each with their own story and all well known in their respective states and communities. The sisterhood of marathon running exploded into the 1980s and it was at this juncture that my mother retired from competitive running, in 1982, at the age of 43, satisfied that in some part she had contributed to the advancement of women’s distance running in Australia.  

For those who raced in the 1960s and 1970s, the sub-2:20s of today’s women marathon runners, and the prevalence of sub-2:30s in the Masters ranks may be hard to comprehend.  However, such performances are the result of an evolutionary social process involving women who had a go, like the NSW 4, despite the cards being stacked against them.  

As I reflect upon my parent’s story I think about the amazing connections within the running world, across geography, and through time, and how the influence of one or two can have lasting effects.  My parent’s journey was not unique in the annals of marathon running, there being many examples of life partnerships influencing others.  Yet, their contribution sits quietly in the history of Newcastle’s Region of Runners as an unwavering inspiration.  And it all started from one young girl’s attempt to run a marathon in Canada in 1967, helped by a healthy dose of Switzer.    

Primary References and Sources

An Athletics Weekly publication, The Ghost Runner – John Tarrant’s Own Story, 1979 

Beisty, J K, Reflections of a Runner, 1986

Giddens, D, How a 13-year-old Canadian girl ran the world’s fastest marathon. CBC Sports – Longform, 10 January 2017, available from https://www.cbc.ca/sportslongform/entry/how-a-13-year-old-canadian-girl-ran-the-worlds-fastest-marathon

1974 Marathon Handbook, Runners World Monthly Booklet No 31, January 1974

Swaby, R and Fox, K, Mighty Moe, 2019

Switzer, K, Marathon Woman, 2007


Conversations/recollections of Sue Beisty and the author during 2022 (no transcripts)

Family scrapbooks of Jim and Sue Beisty

Hamilton Spectator, newspaper article titled 13-year-old Girl Race Sensation, 8 May 1967

Wikipedia profiles of Maureen Wilton and Millie Sampson

Wikipedia ‘World marathon record progression’

Long Distance Log, Vol 12 No 138, June 1967 

Various issues of Australian magazines 1975 to 1982 – Victorian Marathon Club Newsletter, Fun Runner, Australasian Athletics, Australasian Track and Field Athletic