Today we’re honoured to be speaking with one of the great pioneers of Canadian women’s running, Diane Palmason. Now in her 80s and living in Comox, BC, Diane recalls how she discovered her love of running at a Sunday school picnic when she was just seven years old. By 12 she was recruited to train with the Mercury Athletic Club, a women’s only track club coached by the legendary 1928 Olympian Myrtle Cook. Diane’s career dates back to before women were allowed to run anything longer than 220 yards in competition, but in 1954 at the age of 16 she proudly represented Canada at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, BC. This was the same competition where both Roger Bannister and John Landy ran under 4-minutes for the mile in the same race, so Diane even got to witness the “miracle mile.”
With no more opportunities to pursue, Diane retired from running at the age of 17 and carried on with her life. She went to university, became a teacher, married and had four children. Over 20 years went by before she burst back onto the scene, inspired by Eleanor Thomas’ win at the inaugural National Capital Marathon in 1975. Since then Diane has broken Canadian records in every age group from W40-W70 and at every distance from 100m to 80k. In 2003 Diane broke seven Canadian records from 100m to the marathon all within five months, some of which were also world records.
This conversation is a history lesson delivered through amazing storytelling. We owe Diane and the female runners of her time a debt of gratitude for spearheading a revolution and changing the commonly held beliefs about what women are capable of, particularly into their masters years.
We can tell Diane has so much respect for the sport and its athletes because she immediately followed up with the name of the older woman who had run the National Capital Marathon multiple times...Judith Kazdan. Born in 1920, Judith was a barrier breaker much like Diane, running 38 marathons in total at a time when it was regarded as unacceptable and even dangerous. In 2010, the year after her death, she was inducted into the Canadian Masters Athletics Hall of Fame.
Diane also provided a correction for an error she made in the recording. She said that by the 1976 Olympics women were still only running 200m but in actual fact they were running 1500m by then.
Carolyn also made an error when we were talking about Malindi Elmore. She said Malindi represented Canada at the Olympics in the 1500m twice, but it was once...2004 in Athens. After narrowly missing making the 2008 and 2012 teams, she essentially retired from the sport only to make a huge comeback at the marathon distance 17 years later.
Resources we discussed in the episode: