Mavis Hutchinson

Mavis Hutchinson. Never heard of her, right? You’re not alone. In 1978, the South African marathoner became the first woman to run across the United States, from Los Angeles to New York City – at the notable age of 53. The route took her 2871 miles over 69 days, 2 hours and 40 minutes. The record remained unbroken until 1993, when Lorna Michael (age 34) crossed the continent in 64 days as part of the Trans-America Footrace.

Mavis remembers:

“There were times when I thought I could not run another step but would set my goal as the next crack in the road – and so I ran from crack to crack. The heavy trucks drawing trailers would lift me up as they passed and I would always land on my right leg. By the 33rd day I suffered a severe injury. I could not move and cried like a baby. But the next day I was back on the road again. I could not take painkillers as they would have masked any further injury taking place. It was very tough.

What brought me through were the words of the hymn Lead Kindly Light by John Henry Newman which I sang continually in my head.”

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
One step at a time.

“Four weeks of blistering heat were followed by four weeks of snow and icy winds and then a week of ceaseless rain. But when I reached Alantown the sun came out and stayed. When I crossed the line I could not believe it. I had achieved an ambition of a lifetime. The next morning I realized this could not be the end – I still had a lifetime ahead!”