Photo: Latif Azimi

Copyright Women Can 2017.

Stephanie Case. Photo: Madeline Kane

Our international charity partner 2017, Free to Run

The Women Can marathon 2017 chose the international charity, Free to Run, as the event's international fundraising cause. For us, it's a perfect fit! Here's why ...


Free to Run uses sports to empower women and girls from regions of conflict. They focus on young women who have been previously unable to participate in sports programs, particularly outdoors, because of widespread discrimination and traditional beliefs about women’s roles. 

Free to Run has programs running in three different provinces in Afghanistan. One of its recent successes was to enable the first ever Afghan woman to run a full marathon in her own country - the fabulous photo by Latif Azimi at the top of this page captures the sense of achievement and pride felt by the women taking part in the Marathon of Afghanistan in November 2016.

It was this remarkable story that caught the eye of Jo Earlam, administrator of the Women Can Marathon, which takes place in East Devon on 28 May. It was organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of campaigning American runner Kathrine Switzer becoming the first woman to officially complete the all-male Boston Marathon in 1967.

Jo said: “The main inspiration for our event was Kathrine Switzer’s historic Boston run, which captured public imagination at the time and helped prove that women were capable of running 26.2 miles. Many thousands of women, of varying speed and ability, now run this distance without restriction and train freely to compete in events around the world.

“I feel very lucky to be one of them, but I am very aware that some women are not as fortunate and face exclusion, not just from competing in endurance events as Kathrine Switzer did back in 1967, but even from training or access to physical activity. It’s very fitting that women at our event will be celebrating Kathrine Switzer’s pioneering run and at the same time raising funds towards enabling other women to share and enjoy the same experience.

“In a nutshell, it’s women who can, supporting women who can’t.”

The link-up with Free to Run has been welcomed by the charity: “We’re delighted and honoured to be selected by the Women Can 2017 marathon,” said Stephanie Case, President and Founder of Free to Run. “Many of us take for granted the simple act of putting on our shoes to go outside for a run. However, for many of the young women in our programs, this is their first opportunity to experience moving freely outdoors.

“Such a simple act can truly change a life, and with the support of the Women Can 2017 marathon, we’ll be able to help support more women and girls who need it most.”  

Pauline Beare, race director of the Women Can Marathon, was a co-founder with Peg Wiseman of the Women’s Running Network in 1998.
Pauline said: “The creation of the Women's Running Network reflected the broad experience of most women wanting to take part in sport – ridicule, snide comments and reference to shape, size, ability or just gender. Only this week in Plymouth a man walking past my running group remarked ' I could walk faster than that!'.”

And Peg added: “If that is the response in England in 2017, years after women were included in most running events, what chance do women around the globe have in overcoming prejudice? It appears there may never be a time when women don't have to fight for equality.”