1981 – Allison Roe

Source: eBay

25-Oct-1981 – New York City Marathon – 2:25:28 – ASICS Sortie
Date of birth: 30-May-1956
Nationality: New Zealander

The athlete:                
Lining up at the 1981 New York City Marathon, Allison Roe had already secured victory in the notoriously challenging Boston Marathon earlier that year. She was up against stiff competition, with Grete Waitz having won the last three events, slashing minutes off the course record each time. Although Roe was clearly one of the frontrunners, it was not without drama, her right ankle having been treated for tendinitis only two days before the race.

The race had been billed as a big match between Roe and Waitz, and such were her nerves that Roe forgot her bib, organisers having to cut down an existing bib to match her number. She described her enjoyment of running past the major landmarks as the race progressed, not unlike Waitz in her first attempt in 1978. At the 15 mile mark however the Norwegian had to pull out due to painful shin splints. Roe was left to her own devices in the cloudy and cool conditions.

Despite crowd management being problematic, with spectators running into the course at several points, Roe was complimentary and said it had been an exciting journey. It was a quick one too, and at the finish she became the holder of the marathon world record. Her last three miles had actually been the fastest of her race, such was Roe’s endurance that day.

Unfortunately Roe would lose her world record when doubts about the course used by the New York City Marathon were finally assessed in 1985. Organisers had already lengthened the course by 99 metres in 1982 to counter the advantage runners would get by taking the quickest line between corners in Central Park. Organisers had initially stated that the records set were not in question. World Athletics disagreed, and Roe could no longer claim to have held the world record. You can read more about the New York City Marathon course issues in my article here.

She could still claim victories at two of the most significant marathons on the racing calendar. It was quite the achievement given Roe had only entered her first marathon the year before in 1981, having expected to not finish due to her longest run to that point having only been 18 miles. She kept improving, and with sponsorship from ASICS went into what would be her most successful year.

Tragically, Roe would suffer injuries that would end her career when she fell down stairs during home renovations. She had been considered one of the favourites for the 1984 Olympics and the first women’s marathon held at the Olympics. Roe showed incredible resilience when she recovered and took up competitive cycling and the triathlon, winning several national titles in New Zealand.

The shoes:                   

If we look at the shots from the 1981 New York City and 1981 Boston Marathon, Roe is wearing minimalist blue and yellow ASICS racing flats. Those runners have no toebox overlay, there is one piece of nylon with a suede heel counter. That marks them out as the ASICS Sortie, introduced in 1981 as the replacement for the Marup series. The focus of the Sortie is lightness, with the midsole using EVA foam with holes to help with flexibility. Even the outsole was designed to give as much traction as possible with minimal weight penalty.

The version worn by Naoko Takahashi in 2000 to set the new Olympic Record, and the next year to break the 2:20 barrier, weighed an incredible 95 grams. The simpler versions Roe sported would have likely weighed even less. New versions continue to be released, with the latest entry to carry the torch dubbed the SortieMagic RP 5.