Dale Greig (DG) © Copyright
Iaaf News

Former marathon world record-holder Greig dies

The IAAF is saddened to hear that Dale Greig, the British runner who set the inaugural women's world marathon best over a certified and measured course, died of cancer on 12 May, three days short of her 82nd birthday.

From Paisley, near Glasgow, she ran the Ryde Marathon on the Isle of Wight in 1964 wearing plimsols – gym shoes – while on holiday from her job as secretary at Scotland's first athletics magazine for which she later wrote a regular column.

She was allowed to start ahead of an entry of 67 men, to circumvent prevailing rules which did not permit mixed races, or women to race the marathon.

Nineteen men dropped out in the 80-degree heat, but Dale finished in 3:27:45. Weeks later that was amended – 20 seconds quicker.

“I felt sorry for the men I kept passing in the closing stages – they looked embarrassed," she said subsequently. An ambulance had been tipped off to watch out for her, but it was men who needed its services.

Greig was intent only on going the distance, but had little doubt she could, for she regularly covered 50 miles on training runs, a remarkable regime even by modern standards.

“I’d set out from Paisley at 7am, and head for Largs (a coastal seaside resort 30 miles away). I’d stop there for an ice cream cone and walk while I ate it.”

She carried a swim costume in her wet-suit top, and would hire a towel and have a swim. “Then I would go for a cup of tea and a scone in a cafe and return along the shore of the Clyde. If I got thirsty I'd just drink from a stream. Sometimes I might stop for a coffee and a wee cake before finishing in Gourock – 50 miles.”

She’d have a bath at a friend’s, travel by train, and be back home by 3:00pm. “I did that quite a few times.”

After the record race, she danced until midnight and rose early for a swim before travelling 600 miles home.

Misogynist officialdom was incensed. The Ryde club received a scathing letter from the English Southern Counties AAA, warning there must be no repetition, “as the resulting publicity is not good for the sport.”

Greig received nothing for her trailblazing, but she paved the way for the women who now make a living from marathons.

Greig spent much of her life in a house she bought from the local council, but was adamant: “I’m not envious. We ran just for the fun of it. I never made a penny, and I was proud to be an amateur. That’s not to say I would not have liked to make a living as a runner, but I believed in the amateur code, and actually gave away my prizes. Now it’s professional and completely different.”

She was very much more than a one-race wonder, however.

With no women’s club in Paisley, Dale formed her own: Tannahill Harriers, named after the street where she lived. She was president, secretary, treasurer and the sole member – paying affiliation fees from her own pocket.

Only 10 women joined when she founded the inaugural Scottish women's cross-country body but a decade later there were more than 400 members from 35 clubs.

She won her school 100 and 220 yards titles aged 15, but went on to represent Scotland for 13 years at cross country. She was runner-up for the national senior 880 yards title in 1956, before taking bronze at the mile four times in the next decade. It was the longest track race available to her.

She was the first woman to run the mountainous 40-mile Isle of Man TT course, first to race up and down Ben Nevis (Britain’s highest mountain at 1345 metres), and first to run the 53-mile London-to-Brighton race.

In 1974, aged 37, she won the inaugural World Masters Marathon, in Paris (3:45.21). It was the first time the sexes had been allowed to race together, paving the way for mass participation and a whole industry.

But in 1982 she jumped in the shallow end at a swimming pool, cracking bones in both heels. “I was never quite the same.”

Feisty and independent, but modest and self-deprecatory, she served as secretary, treasurer, and president of the Scottish women's cross-country body. She was inducted into the Scottish Athletics Hall of Fame last November.

She dismissed the notion that she deserved an MBE: “I have worked at being anonymous, and been reasonably successful at it,” she said. “I’m a wee shy person and don't look for plaudits.” There was not a trophy to be seen in her home.

She was honoured annually, however, by the London Marathon, among an elite group of Brits who had held a world record or won a major title.

And in a gesture surely rooted in her treatment by male officialdom, she helped establish a fund to give opportunities to Scottish female athletes.

Doug Gillon for the IAAF