1979 – Grete Waitz

Source: Eric Giacoletto via Facebook

21-Oct-1979 – New York City Marathon – 2:27:32.6 – Adidas Marathon 80
Date of birth: 1-Oct-1953 (died 19-Apr-2011 – aged 57)
Nationality: Norwegian

The athlete:                
Having blown away the competition the year before, Grete Waitz was the clear favourite for the 1979 New York City Marathon. She had taken a sabbatical from teaching and now ran full-time, determined to properly train for her next shot at the event. By the halfway point she was on track to beat her previous time, ahead by the slim margin of four seconds. A few miles later, her husband yelled to her from the sidelines that she was on track to set another world record.

Despite fatigue beginning to make its presence felt, Waitz persevered and crossed the line in under 2:30, at the time making her the first woman to have ever achieved the feat. To give further context, she finished 69th overall in a field of 11,533 runners. Her nearest competition, Gillian Adams, finished over 10 minutes behind. It was a huge difference from her 1978 run, where she was entered so late she wasn’t listed on the official program, and had mostly been enjoying the sights along the route. Now the crowd knew her name, and cheered her along every step.

As with her 1978 performance however, the course used by the New York City Marathon at the time was remeasured in 1985 and found to be short by as much as 152.4 metres. You can read more about this in an article I wrote for this website. World Athletics invalidated results set in the 1981 event but not previous years despite the same course being used. Accordingly, the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS) do not consider this to have been the marathon world record at the time. The ARRS are an independent group created years later by many former racing officials and supported by researchers from across the world.

It should not however be understated what Waitz achieved by setting the course record, and at the time having officially broken the 2:30 barrier in the marathon. Waitz grabbed the attention and imagination of runners around the world with her win. In many ways it set the scene for the final transformation of women’s distance running into the profession it is today.

The shoes:                   

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Grete Waitz continued with the Adidas Marathon 80 after her marathon debut in 1978, which you can read more about here.