Run The World #1 – Violet Piercy

Our running group here will be celebrating its ninth anniversary next month. Over the last nine years since its inception, there has been a tradition of a city-wide coming together of all distance runners, to run a 21 km (13 miles) stretch on the city roads every first Sunday of every month. As a result, the anniversary run is going to be held on the seventh of July this year. As a line up to the celebrations, I will be writing a series of articles, featuring international distance runners.

First up is Violet Piercy, considered the pioneer of women’s running.

Violet Piercy is recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federation as having set the first women’s world’s best in the marathon distance. Now-a-days, women of all shapes and sizes run along the streets and compete in marathons around the world. But there was a time when running was considered injurious to women’s health, and one of the rules of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association (WAAA) was that no race should exceed 1000 meters, since any distance over a kilometer would be a “strain” and adversely affect child-bearing ability. Violet Percy blithely broke the rules of the WAAA and even broadcast an account of it on the BBC.

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In 1926, probably in response to the acclaim received by American Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, Violet ran from Windsor to London, thereby becoming the first Englishwoman to attempt a marathon and the first to be officially timed when she ran 3:40:22 on 3rd October 1926 on the Polytechnic Marathon course. She started at 4:27 pm, and was slowed down by suburban traffic outside Battersea Town Hall, till she finished at 8 pm. This time stood as a world record for the next 37 years, until American Merry Lepper ran 3:37:07 in California’s Western Hemisphere Marathon on 16th December 1963. Englishwoman Paula Radcliffe currently holds the world record for the fastest women’s marathon, with a time of 2:15:25 set in London in 2003.

Piercy fell into obscurity over the years, and athletics historian Peter Lovesey conducted a series of investigations into her athletics career. As we inch towards 2020, almost a century has passed since Violet Piercy ran the marathon in the 1920s, when the rules barred any woman from running more than two laps. Research by various historians shows that Violet ran five marathons between 1926 and 1936, in a pair of walking shoes with cross straps and heels. Piercy’s white jersey, black shorts and dance-like shoes serve as a priceless insight into a runner from a different era.

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An iconic picture of  Violet Piercy accompanied by three cyclists and followed by a car during a race in 1927.

Violet Stewart Louisa Piercy was born in Croydon, Surrey on 24th December 1889. She was 36 at the time of her first distance run, and her athletics career carried on till the age of 46. Over a period of 12 years and between two world wars, Piercy was widely regarded as an eccentric and feisty runner, who had a flair for slapping court cases against people who upset her. Rules were “tosh and piffle” to Violet, who ran solo marathons to prove to the world that women could be good at sport and endurance events. She referred to the sport as being based on rhythm, co-ordinated movements and clean living.

Reactions to her feats at the time?

The Westminister Gazette wrote: “It must be hoped that no other girl will be so foolish as to imitate her.”

Piercy’s response: “I am the only long-distance woman runner in this country, and people rather shout at me about it. I really don’t see why they should. Running is about the healthiest form of exercise a woman can have.” Piercy worked as a doctor’s secretary and encouraged others to take up distance running, but no one took up the challenge in her lifetime, and her runs were always solo.

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A news clipping of Piercy in 1934 from the Clapham Society

The second world war affected her stream of marathons, and there is no trail of hers since the 1950s. She is known to have passed away in a London hospital in April 1972, having suffered from brain hemorrhage, hypertension and chronic kidney-related infection. Violet Piercy had languished in obscurity for about 70 years, but the British Pathe archives, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and Track Stats magazine have been instrumental in finally securing for her the recognition she deserves.

The link below is from the British Pathe website, and is a copyrighted video of Violet Piercy.

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/camera-interviews-the-runner/query/Violet

 

Sources:

~www.claphamsociety.com

~www.britishpathe.com

~www.clappedoutrunner.com

~In The Running – Phil Hewitt

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When Wonder Woman Turns Long Distance Runner

A belated write-up of the Halloween Run I had participated in earlier this month. Every edition of the fear n’ fun themed event is held on the first Sunday of November – the weekend nearest to Halloween. While last year I had to orchestrate the event myself in the capacity of SPOC (Specific Point of Contact), free from organizational tasks this year, I could dress up and run. The run is organized on a 21 km route from the Otter’s Club in the Western suburbs to the NCPA in the South of Mumbai, on which participants can run varying distances either as a point to point run or in any desired loop pattern within these points. Being racing season, many runners did a half marathon or distances above 30 kms ( for those training for full marathons). I did a 15 km run – a little after the start point, and up to the end tip of the city. A large number of runners opted for distances of 10 km and below, on account of this being a costume event.

Runners were required to run in costume, in keeping with the Halloween theme. We had Two Face, Batman, Catwoman, Superman, giving company to the great many vampires, witches, zombies and devils.  I went as Wonder Woman! In consideration of the distance required to be run in costume, I settled for a handmade costume constructed out of readily available materials – comfort in long distance running being the priority. The Wonder Woman costume comprised a basic red racerback top, and blue skorts – both in dri-fit fabric. The ‘W’ logo, bracelets and tiara were crafted from glitter foam, and star stickers were used for the skirt, bracelets and tiara. I didn’t make the belt on account of the running pouch occupying space on the waist. Here’s what I ended up with:

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Protecting the bay!

Overall, it was a fun event, racing through the city dressed as Wonder Woman, and receiving peculiar glances from morning runners who were not part of the event and/or not in costume.

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At the early morning start point.

15 km was the longest distance I had attempted since the accident, and pleasantly received company from the halfway mark onward, with a runner attempting 32 km. Step by step we trotted along to the finish point.

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When you feel like you’re the only one racing around like a weirdo!

It was a joy to see volunteers at the various water stations dressed up in their spine-tingling best, hiding behind parked cars, jumping out and scaring runners, and capturing a cornucopia of expressions.

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When Wonder Woman meets the Devil.

A common sight on Sundays are the vintage car rallies that occur within South Mumbai. Clicking pictures and taking in the sights on the seafront, the never ending run finally came to an end.

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Appreciating beauty on the route.

The only disheartening feature of the event was that many runners didn’t really run, but only showed up at the end point to click pictures dressed in costume. The idea behind a Halloween Run was to run the distance in spooky or fun attire. Merely showing up in costume for the sake of pictures defeats the purpose of a running event. Ah! The flip-side of social media.

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The ghosts and ghouls at the finish point.
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With Captain America cum Wonder Woman cum Super Girl