Allison Roe wins Boston marathon

20 April 1981

Allison Roe on her way to victory in the Boston Marathon, 1981 (

1981 was a memorable year for Allison Roe. In April she became the first New Zealand woman to win the prestigious Boston race, burning off American star Patti Catalano and taking nearly eight minutes off the course record for the 42.2 km course, running 2 hours 26 minutes 46 seconds. 

Six months later, she overtook Grete Waitz to win the New York marathon. Her time of 2:25.29 was thought to be a world’s best for the marathon, but the course proved to be 150 m short.

Legendary coach Arthur Lydiard had dismissed Roe’s prospects as a marathoner, feeling that at 1.73 m she was too tall. Her victory in two of the five ‘majors’ in one year showed that on this rare occasion Lydiard’s judgement was faulty.

The marathon for women was included at the summer Olympics for the first time in Los Angeles in 1984. By then injury had unfortunately curtailed Roe’s career. Her 1981 New York time remained an unofficial New Zealand best until 2010, when Kimberley Smith ran eight seconds faster in the London Marathon.

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