LONG distance running for women has come a long way since Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to participate in the traditionally all-male Boston Marathon in 1967.
Switzer, who completed the 42km race, made headlines then, but she kept running. Five years later the Boston Marathon opened the event to women.
Her story became the talk of the town, and decades later, she is an idol and an inspirational speaker, sharing her story with women athletes around the world.
It was exactly the same drive that led Malaysia Women Marathon (MWM) race director Karen Loh to introduce a women’s-only running event in South-East Asia with hopes of encouraging more women to lace up and hit the road.
Three years on, the event has caught the attention of many runners in the region as there are only a handful of such events organised around the world.
Loh, who is an avid long distance runner herself, picked up the sport less than five years ago and has run more races than she had imagined.
“If you asked me 10 years ago if I would be running this much, I would probably have laughed at the idea,” said the mother of two, who has since participated in various marathons in Japan, Australia, US and Europe.
Although running may sound like the easiest sport to pick up, strength, determination and a friend to run with are just some of the more daunting challenges women athletes have to overcome.
This led Loh and her two running mates, Sweeney Choong and Lorna Wong, to create a group on social media site Facebook to assist participants for the upcoming MWM.
Each of them has a task mainly to train the women and to answer their many queries on the sport, from what to wear to nutrition and health tips.
“This is a closed group for participants to share what they feel was most important, but have no idea how to solve it,” said Choong, who dedicates most of her time answering queries on the page.
Choong, who finished third in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon two years ago, is no stranger to the running community and is always eager to share ideas with newbies.
“Women have a lot more to worry about whenever race day is approaching and may not be comfortable discussing it in the open so with our closed social media group, it is easier for everyone to share and ask questions without being judged,” said Choong, a full-time mother.
Meanwhile, Wong, a mother-of-two, assists in setting up timetables to train and guide participants on how to achieve their target time efficiently.
“Some of us go out to run leisurely but others want to set a mark for themselves in hopes of improving from time to time with better finishing time,” said Wong, adding that running alone in the park may not be sufficient.
The group, which has a large number of active participants, also meet up weekly to train with long runs.
“Most of the participants have a day job and do not have time to do long runs.
“More often they also do not fancy running 20km alone, hence we came up with a schedule to meet at a park and we run the distance together,” said Loh adding that a handful of her male running buddies sometimes come by to lend a hand to the group.
She hopes through the close-knit group, the participants would bond as a family and continue running together even after the marathon.
On Sunday, the three mothers will be looking out for the participants and friends and hope to have a memorable day at the annual race.