Jean Wainwright

In memory of Jean Wainwright

Written by Karen Walters

Jean Wainwright, our club matriarch, passed away in February 2011 while on a cycling holiday in Cuba.

This untimely loss has been felt so deeply and sorrowfully, not only by Jean’s family, but by the many friends she had acquired during her 15 years as a club member. A truly amazing lady who had such a zest for life, especially in her retiring years, taking on adventures and challenges which left us with a feeling of profound respect for her achievements.

Jeans love of cycling preceded her running. In the late 1980’s both Jean and her husband, Jim, undertook cycling expeditions around the world including Norway, Poland and Slovakia, followed by a trip to Sri Lanka, before embarking on a coast to coast journey across the United States in 1998 that was to last 81 days. A year later they cycled New Zealand covering both North and South Islands. Also included are many tours of the home nations as well as John O’Groats to Lands End, and more recently France and Vietnam were added to the list of countries “conquered” by pedal power.


Jean joined Perth Road Runners in 1996, introducing herself to club members at the Blairgowire Seven. Together with husband Jim, they had returned to Perthshire several months earlier and Jean, not surprisingly, wanted to find new running partners. Prior to joining the club, Jean had taken up running in the late 1980’s when doctors suggested this would relieve uncomfortable aches and pains in her feet, caused by rheumatism. She found this to be excellent advice and soon the symptoms quickly disappeared resulting in her love and enjoyment of running. Having a good fitness base from cycling, she quickly adapted to running 10kms and half marathons almost immediately. Within a few years, at the age of 55, she had targeted the 26.2 mile distance, completing the 1991 London marathon in less than 4hrs 30mins. She now had the running bug!

The marathon was a great inspiration to Jean, and with the introduction of a good for age entry, she went on to complete 5 more London marathons, always finishing in the top 10 in her age group and more recently the top five. The ultimate achievement was 2nd place in 2009. The London experience was a draw card, Jean took great delight in being in the privileged position of sharing the changing tent at the start line with the world’s elite female runners and no doubt vice versa.

Her first competitive club event was the Round the Houses 10km in 1998 where she clocked 54:37. From that moment on, Jean began to record countless PB’s and started to forge a name as one to watch out for in her age division. In November 1998 she ran the New York marathon in 4:30:14 which placed her 15/95th in her group. In July 1999 she entered the European Veterans Half Marathon Championships in Belgium, although her legs were tired from numerous races in the weeks before, she gained 2nd place for Britain and 11th in Europe for her division.

Her age category accolades accumulated, not only in local races, but around the British Isles and also on the international scene. To note her many achievements would be lengthy process, however those who viewed her trophy shelf were always impressed at the crowded display of awards. Amongst the trophies now is a rather large sculptured volcanic rock from her last international race – the Lanzarote Half Marathon.

Most of us will remember giving applause at some time or other as Jean graciously accepted her prizes. However, the manner of her acceptance at the Ballater 10m race in 2007 will be well remembered by those who were present. The ladies changing area was behind the stage curtain and Jean was busy changing as the prize giving began, unaware that she had won a prize. When the race presenter announced her name and looked out into the audience for her, she surprised him (and everyone watching) by magically appearing from behind the stage curtain! Laughter and applause continued until Jean made her exit.

In total, Jean completed 17 marathons, and gained a place in running history as the first British woman to complete a marathon on each continent. As mentioned, she ran the New York marathon in 1998, vowing not to repeat the experience when to her horror, while running across the Brooklyn Bridge on the lower level, she realised the yellow coloured drips from the runners on the upper level was not water! The Dubai marathon of January 2000 saw her start in the very early hours of the morning, with the race getting under way in darkness, allowing for runners to finish in cooler temperatures.

Now ready for a bigger challenge, in September 2000 a trip was organised which would take Jean to a high altitude race, 5,000ft above sea level on the slopes of Mount Kenya for the Lewa Downs Marathon. With the race route traversing a game reserve, Jean admitted it was unnerving to hear frequent gun fire and explosions, which organisers had in place to keep the lions, elephants and other wild animals away from the course. Masai Warriors had volunteered to be pace setters/runners’ escorts for the event, to her delight Jean found she had the company of her own Masai Warrior for most of the race, making the heat of the day a little more tolerable!

In the height of the southern hemisphere summer of 2001, Jean ventured to the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. Flying to Argentina and boarding a boat from Tierra Del Fuego. On board were a contingency of fellow passengers all planning to complete the most memorable of marathons on the frozen landscape. As the ship reached the coast line, weather conditions deteriorated, preventing any attempt to dock. After waiting two days with no signs of the weather improving, the marathon was reorganised around the decks of the ship. This meant running 430 laps of the upper deck and 326 laps of the lower deck. Not the easiest of marathon courses, together with difficulties of heavy seas tossing the ship from side to side, plus the many tight turns on the decks, protruding door handles and countless obstacles to trip over. Jim was also on board, not only for support, but diligently counting each lap to make Jean’s marathon official in a time of 5hrs 53 minutes – quite astonishing considering the conditions.

April 2001: Jean took on the adventure of a South American holiday, travelling to Chile to run the Santiago Marathon. However the heat of the day affected the 4hr+ runners with little water available at the drink stations and meant a struggle to the finish line clocking just over 5 hours. Jean later admitted it wasn’t one of her more enjoyable runs!

The final adventure during her 7 continent marathon collection was the Gold Coast Marathon near Brisbane Australia. The race began as the sun rose over the Pacific Ocean, and although falling in the middle of an Australian winter, the sub-tropical temperatures still crept high enough to make conditions tough. Predicting a sub 4:30, Jean was on track for most of the race, however as the sun appeared, she found the associated heat and humidity taking its toll, and with only a few miles remaining had to slow, finishing just over her target time, in 4:33.

Amongst a multitude of events and disciplines, Jean also competed in the Highland Cross, Corrieyairack Challenge, and Cape Wrath challenges. She was the baton holder on day 87 of the 100 day Island race around the coast of Britain, carrying the baton from Tobermory to Mallaig, albeit, some of the distance sitting on a ferry! In the 2nd running of the Coll Half Marathon, locals were giving her tremendous support as she finished a mere 15 minutes behind her well known son Robert, who resides of the island!

Jean not only represented the club at events, but also took a very active role in club politics, joining the committee in 1999, becoming the club secretary at the AGM in 2000; fulfilling this role commendably until stepping down in December 2006. She then remained on the committee for another two years as Minutes Secretary. When Jean took over the role of Secretary, the club knew they were in good hands with the experience she bought to the committee, having already served as Secretary in the Eastern District division of SAL, formerly known as the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association. In the early years of the new millennium the face of athletics in Scotland began to change dramatically, ushering in a professional approach. The rules and regulations which were being instigated at a national level sent rippling effects to the grass roots of all Scottish clubs. It was a turbulent time for the committee, but with the foresight Jean had, she was able to see both sides of the arguments and looked ahead for the benefits these changes would bring and helped steer the club into this new era.

Before leaving the post of club Secretary, she organised son Robert to be guest presenter at our annual prize giving night in February 2006 saying the club should not offer him expenses as she had earned sufficient points for all the previous child minding engagements. It was more of a case that he owed her a return favour – that was Jean, very much to the point. Not that the night was a chore for Rob he enjoyed meeting so many of his Mum’s club mates. Jean, however, sat through his speech wondering and worrying when the “rugby style jokes” were going to appear, but she needn’t have worried.

Jean’s willingness to help organise and assist with club events knew no bounds. The year she joined the club was also the year of the inaugural Brig Bash 5. Jean was always on hand to offer support and assist where ever needed and made a grand “Kitchen organiser” as well as pouring a great cup of tea!

When the club put out a call for marshals or volunteers, inevitably Jean’s name would appear. Whether it was at local races or at national events, Jean relished the chance to see and cheer on the elite athletes as they passed close by. When the 24 hour events came to Perth, Jean would be on the North Inch at 5am handing out jelly beans and offering encouragement to flagging competitors. At the turn of the millennium the club ladies decided to actively increase numbers of female members with a “start Jogging” incentive, 70 women enrolled and Jean proved the ideal mentor and helped and encouraged the women through each training sessions until they achieved their goals, with quite few then joining Perth Road Runners.

A trait most associated with Jean was the keen interest she took in the goals other members were targeting, she would easily remember what we were planning and would be eager of news of our results, this applied to all members whether they realised it or not. She could readily inform us of who was running in which forthcoming marathon.

Despite her advancing years, Jean embraced modern technology and its associated gadgetry. From the introduction of personal computers, emails, websites Jean was able to adapt rapidly. When multi mode running watches and Garmins arrived, it wasn’t unusual for Jean to give quick tips on their use to others less that half her age. She read many running and cycling magazines and was well informed on the latest in running gear and materials, and was certainly one of the first club members to purchase a fold away bike and use it regularly.

Jean loved the idea of “Age adjusted times”, and would frequently calculate what her time would have been if she had been in her prime. I recall one year when she kept track on her progress and compared it to the club championship ladder, she claimed she would have finished in the top 3! Her marathon times would inevitably recalculate to be around the 3:30 – 3:40 time which would be up there with the club elite. This secretly gave her a boost.

Unfortunately, we never kept track of the amount of money Jean raised for charity with either her cycling or running, but it would be well over £15,000. When she ran the marathon in Africa she raised over £6,000. She was a dab hand at getting friends to part with their money when collecting for a particular challenge, often securing over £1000 for a worthy cause.

All didn’t go perfectly well with her training, and like all runners Jean suffered setbacks with aches, pains and injuries, although the arthritis never reappeared. She found it difficult to take advice from doctors when her knees began to cause a problem, they suggested she curtail her running – she wouldn’t listen, quite the reverse in fact and she set out to source who would be able to help and thought nothing of travelling many miles to see a particular specialist.

This tribute to Jean implies running and cycling dominated her retrial years, in fact they were just a compliment to the many other activities she enjoyed. Jean was a member of many clubs, groups and organisations including Hill Walking Club, Book Club, Bridge Club, plus Art, Yoga and Gym classes. Of course, such interests were always fitted around the hectic social diary which saw Jean doing grandparent duties around the country, becoming ever more frequent as the number of grandchildren steadily increased.

Jean made many close friends through the club, her age was never really considered – she was just one of the girls. Club social occasions were a priority (if her diary allowed) and training nights and weekend runs were eagerly anticipated. If friends at the club had reasons to celebrate, or required a helping hand in an hour of need, then Jean was always there for us.

There are so many stories and memories we have of Jean, she was a great ambassador for the club and played an important part in spreading our club name around the globe.

In summary, Jean was an extremely popular lady, as was evident when over 500 people attended her memorial service. The massive amount of mail and tributes received by Jim and other family members is a huge testament to her life. Many words are available to describe Jean, but the one lasting legacy is the enthusiasm she had towards maintaining an active and adventurous life. We must all strive to what is now known as the “Jean Wainwright Standard”, the bar has been set high, but our memories of Jean and what she achieved will help us on our way.