THE WORLD has changed a lot since the first Isle of Wight Marathon was run in 1957 — particularly with attitudes towards the acceptability of women taking part in it at that time.

The event is the oldest continuously run marathon in the UK and 25th in the world’s list of oldest marathons.

In its early years, it was seen as an elite event with all the best male marathon runners in the UK competing.

With its 1,505ft of ascent, the old course was reckoned to be one of the toughest road marathons in the UK.

The inaugural event 63 years ago was won by Ken Honney, of Walton Athletic Club, in 2hrs 35mins 51secs — considered a decent time over the hilly course in those days, with only one drinks station in operation, at the half-way stage, in Godshill.

Isle of Wight County Press: One of the runners about to visit the only drinks station of the first Isle of Wight Marathon, in Godshill, in 1957.One of the runners about to visit the only drinks station of the first Isle of Wight Marathon, in Godshill, in 1957.

There were few veteran runners in those days and, with women barred from entering, times for the entire field were quite fast.

It is very much different these days.

Women were allowed to enter 19 years after the first one and today, runners of all abilities take part, aged from 18 to 80.

In 1960, John Tarrent, of the Hereford Light Infantry, entered.

He was famously known as the Ghost Runner, with his habit of gate-crashing races.

Tarrent had been banned by the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) for accepting money as a prize-fighter in his late teens.

Isle of Wight County Press: The start of the inaugural Isle of Wight Marathon on Ryde Esplanade adjacent to the Hotel Ryde Castle in 1957.The start of the inaugural Isle of Wight Marathon on Ryde Esplanade adjacent to the Hotel Ryde Castle in 1957.

Although he made only £17, the athletics establishment was very strict in those days.

But Ryde Harriers accepted his entry and he won the marathon from 1960 to 1962, the year he set a new course record of 2.26.44.

He went on to hold ultra-running world records at 40 and 100-mile distances.

The Island Marathon’s — and the Harriers’ — next brush with the athletics establishment was to allow a woman to run in 1964.

The late Dale Greig, the Scottish Cross Country Championship title holder at the time and an accomplished long distance runner, was invited to the Island by Bill Ross, the brother of her employer in Paisley.

Isle of Wight County Press: Runners being directed through Newport, past big crowds, during the inaugural Isle of Wight Marathon of 1957.Runners being directed through Newport, past big crowds, during the inaugural Isle of Wight Marathon of 1957.

Greig set off four minutes ahead of the men (19 of which retired from the race).

Although most of them passed her, she recovered to pick them off again to finish in 3.27.25 — the first woman to run a sub 3hrs 30mins marathon.

This beat the current Association of Road Running Statisticians record by eight minutes to earn her the title of first women’s marathon world record holder, recognised by the former International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of athletics.

Greig said of the race: “Once I started, I knew things would be all right.

“I felt sorry for the men I kept passing in the closing stages — they looked embarrassed.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Scottish runner Dale Grieg on Ryde Esplanade in 1964. Her IW Marathon made her the first woman to run a sub-3hrs 30mins marathon.Scottish runner Dale Grieg on Ryde Esplanade in 1964. Her IW Marathon made her the first woman to run a sub-3hrs 30mins marathon.

Greig’s pioneering efforts opened the way for women around the world to be admitted to marathon races, having ventured into uncharted territory at a time when some respected authorities still believed running such long distances was harmful for women.

These days we probably can’t imagine how serious the flack the Harriers received from the AAA was, with letters in the national press saying such practices must never happen again as women were far too frail to run long distances.

Thankfully, attitudes are completely different now.

It wasn’t until 1976 that women were officially allowed to run the marathon distance, with A. Lewis, of Bromsgrove and Redditch Athletic Club, winning the inaugural women’s event in a time of 3.21.06.

Isle of Wight County Press: The Isle of Wight Marathon nowadays does not attract nearly as many runners as it did back in the 1980s.The Isle of Wight Marathon nowadays does not attract nearly as many runners as it did back in the 1980s.

In 1978, the race became the UK Women’s Marathon Championship, won by Margaret Lockley, of Luton United Athletic Club, in 2.55.08 — again over a classic hilly course, with 1,505ft of ascent.

After the start of the London Marathon in the early 1980s, the running boom caused numbers to increase, with more veterans and women taking part.

Typically, the men’s race was won in sub-2hrs 30mins and the women’s race in sub-3.10.

In 1981, Leslie Watson, of London Olympiads, set the women’s course record of 2.52.56.

Watson was a top UK women’s marathon runner who always said: “Every serious runner must do the Island Marathon.”

She came back to win it seven times.

Mark Pickard, of Epson and Ewell Harriers, set the men’s course record of 2.22.02 in 1982.

Watson’s record of seven wins is matched in the men’s race with Paul Rogers, of Tipton Harriers, who achieved it in the 1990s.

The Island Marathon is no longer the big race of 350 finishers it once was in the early 1980s, with these days typically seeing between 120 and 150 finishers.

That said, there are many runners who come back year after year to keep their personal appearance records going.

For many years, James Parker (Crawley AC) and Malcolm Knight (The Road Runners Club), vied for the most consecutive finishes, with 36 and 38 respectively, Richard Simpson (Fleet and Crookham AC) was not far behind with his 30th in 2015.

Knight is still going strong and is determined to reach 40.

Isle of Wight County Press: How the Isle of Wight Marathon looks nowadays. FILEHow the Isle of Wight Marathon looks nowadays. FILE

The staging of this year’s event, pencilled in for October 4, may be touch and go with the coronavirus pandemic, so may hold back Knight and others from boosting their already impressive tallies.

Ian Jolliffe, of the West Wight Road Runners, is an Islander with 25 Isle of Wight Marathons under his belt.

Jolliffe, who first ran it in 1968, gave it up in 2016 after competing as a Vet 70.

Reflecting fondly on his years of participating in the event, he said: “Throughout, it has always been a welcoming, interesting and challenging race.

“I grew up on the Isle of Wight, so from the time it started, it was always my ambition to run it.

“My first memory of it is of grizzled old men — probably in their 30s — running through Brading on a hot day, with at least some of them wearing wet, knotted handkerchiefs on their heads to stay cool.

“In my first Isle of Wight Marathon, I finished 49th in 3.01.07.

“Between 1968 and 2016, I managed to fit in another 25 starts, finishing in 24, with my best-ever finish in 1981, in 2.39.06, to come 21st.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Former soldier, Gary Marshall, was the last Islander to win the Isle of Wight Marathon, back in 2018. FILEFormer soldier, Gary Marshall, was the last Islander to win the Isle of Wight Marathon, back in 2018. FILE

Over the years there have been a number of local winners, in the men’s event, which includes Andy Robertson and Paul Cameron (Isle of Wight Road Runners), Gary Smith, Les Cupis and Adam Tuck (Ryde Harriers), Chris Readhead (unattached, of Shanklin), and ex-soldier, Gary Marshall (Ryde Harriers and formerly the Wootton Bridge Runners).

In the women’s race, Mary Norman (Wight Tri), Ulla Korenjak and Judy Brown (Ryde Harriers) and Hayley Baxter and Rosanna Sexton (Isle of Wight Road Runners), also won.

In recent years, the course — not as hilly as the East Wight course — has moved to the relatively traffic-free West Wight, starting and finishing in Cowes.

The current course records of 2.35.01 and 3.01.31 are held by Jack Oates (unattached, of Fareham) and Sarah Hill (Farnham Runners).