According to legend a woman “wearing red” slipped into the 1951 Boston Marathon—which would make her the first woman to run a marathon in America and add a new “heroine” to the history of women’s running. The legend grew out of a contention by a group of Canadian runners – never proven – who insisted they spotted the woman “in red” sneak into the race, fifteen years before history recorded the first woman runner.

Tom Murphy, who with John J. Kelley, winner of the 1957 Boston Marathon, co-authored Just Call Me Jock: The Legacy and History of Boston’s Mr. Marathon, has written a fictional novel to solve the mystery. The book is also a love story, family drama and uplifting tale of the human spirit that explores the history of women’s running.

Proceeds from the book support a cure for lung cancer in the memory of Murphy’s late wife, Barb (a Boston Marathon runner.). In addition, the search for the “mystery runner in red” has inspired an ESSAY COMPETITION to give women a chance to share the joy of running – and tell the positive ways running contributes to their lives in the “now” against the backdrop of “then” era of the Runner in Red when rules precluded women from running.

The program began with a PILOT in the spring of 2018, led by the women runners at Boston College, shown in the photo.

Read the winning essays from the PILOT:

  • First Place
  • Second Place
  • Three Runners up

Judges for the PILOT competition included Joann Flaminio, former Chairwoman of the Boston Athletic Association, Gina Caruso, former B.A.A. Treasurer, Cathy Utzschneider, Ed.D, 8X National Track and Field Age Group Champion, and Gloria Ratti, VP of the Boston Athletic Association. Judges for the FALL competition will be announced later.


This FALL we’ll expand to offer TWO CATEGORIES:

  • College Women Runners (on college teams)
  • Open (Women of all ages)

Check back for DETAILS on how to enter. Awards – details will be announced soon!

Scroll down for more on the competition – and a place to enter.

Amazing to think there was a time when women were not allowed to run. Until 1972, American Athletic Union (AAU) rules that governed the sport forbade women to compete at distances greater than 200 meters. Now nearly half the 30,000 participants in major races such as the Boston and New York City Marathons are women.

The RUNNER IN RED Essay Competition gives women runners an opportunity to tell how running enhances their lives, including sharing positive feelings they get from building strength each day, forming strong relationships and enhancing self-esteem and pride by being pro-active and more.

 In 300 to 700 words share how running adds to your life. Frame your response anyway you’d like, but tell about the JOY you get, you may wish to share  a unique story about a running moment or experience from running that has enhanced your life (You can draw on a personal “awakening” about your potential, positive relationships you’ve formed or a broadening of experience of life that’s special to you.)


The essay competition is inspired by a real-life Boston Marathon legend – “The Runner in Red” – and a book by that title by Tom Murphy. The legend grew out of a contention by Canadian runners who insisted they spotted a woman “wearing red” slip into the 1951 Boston Marathon, which would make her the first woman to run a marathon on American soil.

The essay competition is being conducted by the Human Resiliency Institute at Fordham University in NY, where Murphy, as director, works in partnership with the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation and to promote lung cancer awareness and help find a cure. Order the book to support the cause at

For more information contact us at:

Runner in Red $15.99 Paperback

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