Path-finder for women in our sport: sad news as Leslie Watson passes away

Wednesday 3rd January 2024

Photo by Mark Shearman

Tribute from Athletics Weekly

It’s always sad to report on the loss of a well-known name in the athletics community in Scotland.

And our thoughts and sympathies at the moment are with the family and friends of Leslie Watson.

Leslie, who has passed away at the age of 78, is one of our greatest female distance runners and, in many ways, a path-finder for female running in Scotland.

A Scottish mile champion in 1966, she went on to become the most prolific of marathon runners, with over 100 marathons and a best of 2:44:18 in 1982.

She was WAAA Marathon Champion in 1981, also winning the London to Brighton Road Race in 1979 and 1980.

Read more about Leslie’s career

Leslie running the London to Brighton race in 1979 (photo by Mark Shearman)

Born as Leslie Mary Watson in Glasgow on February 4 in 1945, her father was a doctor and her mother a dancer who specialised in Russian Cossack dancing.

Despite having modest ability as a runner, she was attracted to athletics and joined Maryhill Harriers, where she came into contact with a PE teacher called John Anderson.

Under Anderson’s coaching she won the Scottish Schools 880 yards title followed by the Scottish one mile crown, plus Scottish cross-country national titles in the late 1960s. Later, she put much of her success down to Anderson’s guidance.

She qualified as a physiotherapist, moved to London and began to be drawn to the marathon, although this wasn’t a straightforward option for a female runner in the 1970s due to rules that forbade women from racing against men.

‘I’d much rather be a sprinter,’ she later told Athletics Weekly. ‘But as I have no natural talent the marathon is my next favourite event.’

In 1975 she made her debut at 26.2 miles in the Masters and Maidens Marathon in Guildford.

The race didn’t go well, though, as she clocked 3hr 31min.

Leslie soon found her stride in the marathon, though. Whereas her absolute best remained a relatively modest 2:44:18 from the New York Marathon in 1982, she became a prolific racer at the distance, notching up an estimated 60-plus victories.

Photo by Mark Shearman

Racing for London Olympiades, Watson proved a pioneering runner in not only the marathon but ultra-distance events. In 1979 she finished the first female in the London to Brighton race over 54 miles despite being an unofficial entrant due to women not being permitted.

The organisers soon changed their rules to allow women to compete, though, with Watson turning up in 1980 to successfully defend her title, this time receiving a trophy and proper recognition for the victory.

At the peak of her career she ran a 50 miles world best of 6:02:37 in Connecticut, United States – breaking the old mark by two minutes – before returning to the UK to race 3000m on the track the following Saturday and the Women’s AAA Marathon in Rugby on Sunday, which she won in 2:49:08.

For good measure, Leslie then won the Isle of Wight Marathon the next weekend in a 2:52:56 course record!

Women’s running writer Katie Holmes said this week: ‘Leslie did so much to popularise road running and opened up opportunities for women.’

With thanks to Arnold Black and Athletics Weekly


Tags: Leslie Watson

Expand Social Feeds