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The 'London Marathon' that no-one knows about...

Updated: Jan 10

Apart from the TCS London Marathon (1981- present), and of course the Polytechnic Marathon (1909-1996), there was also another 'London Marathon' which very few people know about...


Turn the clock back to 3 August 1980, almost a year before Chris Brasher and John Disley hosted their first ever London Marathon, there was another marathon in town. And this one arguably had even greater impact on the world of marathon running... Ok, ok, maybe a bit dramatic here, as the London Marathon has raised £1bn in fundraising and is one of the world's best marathons, but this 'other marathon' was part of a very important movement in running and society.


The Avon International Marathon was a global women's marathon series sponsored by beauty product company Avon (as in 'Avon calling'). The series was set up by one of the most famous marathon runners in the world - Kathrine Switzer, who rose to fame as the woman who first ran the Boston Marathon (when it was still a strictly male only pursuit).


The marathon series was set up in response to the IOC's insistence that a minimum number of participants from 25 countries must take part international competition in order for it to be accepted in the Olympic Schedule. The Avon International Marathon series started in 1978 and events were hosted in USA, Canada, West Germany, UK and France. The 1980 event event was hosted in London, starting in Battersea Park and ending at Guildhall. The series ran for 7 years, ending in Paris 1984.


The reason the series was needed was that outrageously, despite the men's marathon being ever present in the Olympic schedule since the inaugural Olympic Games in Athens 1896, by the 1980's there was still no women's event. The Avon International Marathon series was a key player in enabling the Olympic Games in LA 1984 to finally host a women's Olympic Marathon race and end 88 years of gender discrimination.


Joyce Smith of Great Britain won the 1979 Avon International Marathon event in Waldniel, West Germany, before going on to win the first two London Marathon events in 1981 and 1982.


This little known story is part of London's rich sporting heritage. And like the famous 1908 race (which has now been recreated as Original Marathon) and the Polytechnic Marathon (London's first Olympic Legacy event), the story of the Avon International Marathon needs to be celebrated and shared.


So the story of marathon running in London does not start in 1981. It starts in 1908 with the Original Marathon, and in 1980, with the Avon International Marathon Series, there is a very important moment in the development of marathon running in the capital, a year before the London Marathon launched. From 1981 London Marathon went on to become of the of the best races in the world and continue London's impact on the sport.


Wouldn't it be great if the London Marathon updated their own history of the London Marathon to reference to these pioneering, game changing events, which have helped make London the world's most famous marathon running city. What do you think?


Shadow of two runners in London
Marathon runners

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