Female marathoners and ultra distance runners owe a lot to the trail blazed by the Scot Dale Greig (1937–2019), who has died at the age of 82.
Only recently inducted into the scottishathletics hall of fame, Greig’s was not a household name. But as as one of the first women to run a standard distance marathon, it should have been.
Greig, a founding member of the Tannahill Harriers, began her running career in school, as a sprinter – but soon realised that going further, rather than faster, was her strength.
She won several Scottish national track medals in the 1950s, before moving to cross country and road running. In 1960, she won the first of her four national women’s cross country titles.
Her first standard-distance marathon was at the Isle of Wight in May 1964, where she was allowed to run the course as a ‘time trial’. Although she was made to start four minutes ahead of the men and was followed by an ambulance for the entire race – at the insistence of the authorities – she finished the hilly course, with little structured training other than a few 20-mile runs, in 3.27.45.
As the first woman to run a sub-3.30 marathon, Greig’s time was recorded by the IAAF as the first ever women’s ‘world best’ over the distance, a title which she held for three months.
Greig did not return to distance running events until 1971, when with much more thorough preparation, she ran the Isle of Man TT course in 6.48.00.
In 1972, she was the first woman to run the 55 mile London to Brighton race – starting off one hour before the men. This was seven years before female competitors were officially allowed to enter.
In addition to her achievements on the track and on the roads, in 1971 Greig was also the first woman to compete in and finish the Ben Nevis 10-mile mountain marathon.
Her last major achievement came in 1974, when she won won the world veteran marathon championships in Paris, in 3.45.21, at the age of 37.
scottishathtletics historian Arnold Black sums up Greig’s lecacy: “Her pioneering efforts opened the way for women throughout the world to be admitted to marathon races having ventured into uncharted territory at a time when some respected authorities still believed that running such long distances was harmful for a woman.”