1977 – Christa Vahlensieck

Source: Sportmuseum Berlin

10-Sep-1977 – Berlin Marathon – 2:34:47.5 – EB Lydiard Marathon
Date of birth: 27-May-1949
Nationality: West German (at the time)
World Record duration: 2 years, 4 months, 24 days

The athlete:                
Despite losing the marathon world record back to Jacqueline Hansen only months after she had set it, Christa Vahlensieck went on to set yet more world records in the following years. This included world records in the 10,000 metres, 20,000 metres, and 25 kilometre distances. Vahlensieck also turned her talents towards the ultramarathon, setting the world record in the 100 kilometres with a 7:50:37 the next year.

Her next few marathons proved her performance in Dülmen was no fluke, both being close to breaking the 2:40 mark. No woman had yet run faster than 2:35, and the 4th running of the now famous Berlin Marathon, which at the time had a different course to what it has today due to the Berlin Wall. The famously quick course we know today was first run in 1990 after the reunification of East and West Germany.

Although little detail is available for the race itself, Vahlensieck was clearly in her element and finished in 2:34:47. It was the first time a woman had run the marathon distance in under 2:35. It would not be the last time a marathon world record was set at the event. She would go on to continue her successes across Europe, winning multiple races during the 70s and 80s.

One victory that got away from her was the 1978 New York City Marathon. Vahlensieck was the favourite, but an injured foot forced her out, only able to watch as the unheralded newcomer Grete Waitz snatched victory and the world record from her. Vahlensieck would however go on to set world records at distances ranging from 10,000 metres to 100 kilometres.

Her marathon victories included five wins at the Košice Peace Marathon, the third oldest marathon event in the world. She lost none of her speed, going faster than her world record time on multiple occasions. This included her final marathon win which came in 1989 at the Vienna Marathon in 2:34:47, capping off an impressive career.

The shoes:                   

We only have one picture of Vahlensieck competing at the 1977 Berlin Marathon, but in context of other pictures we have there is enough information for me to conclude that she was most likely wearing the EB Lydiard Marathon. She had switched from Adidas to EB Lydiard for 1975, and can be seen wearing various other models by the brand from 1975 until at least 1978.

The Marathon is an obscure but highly regarded racing flat that was first released in 1970. They were created in collaboration between famed running coach Arthur Lydiard and German manufacturer Brütting. The formula for the Marathon clearly worked, with an upper made from kangaroo skin upper with the heel counter sitting above minimal amounts of cushioning.

The midsole is notably lighter in colour, similar to the upper, and if you look closely at the photo you can make out the diamond logo on the side of the shoes. There are also the laces which in colour are red but as shown in the black and white advertisement would have shown up as darker than the upper. No other model from EB Lydiard would have had quite this appearance from the angle we have of Vahlensieck competing.

In many ways the Marathon was closely linked to the women’s marathon world record, with multiple women wearing the model in previous years. These included Chantal Langlacé who set the marathon world record in 1974, and Liane Winter who also ran what would have been the marathon world record at the 1975 Boston Marathon. As discussed here however, that course is not eligible for world records as it is too steep.

As for the EB Lydiard Marathon, it is actually still being manufactured today by Brütting. Although it isn’t cheap, it appears to be an exact continuation of that famous model. This means if you’re looking to take steps both figuratively and literally back in time, the opportunity is open to you.

Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer
A Long Time Coming by Jacqueline Hansen