Watford Observer: Joyce Smith and Norwegian Ingrid Christiansen running in the Osaka Marathon in January 1983.

Joyce Smith (wearing number 7) running in the Osaka Marathon in January 1983 alongside Norwegian Ingrid Christiansen.

As Harry the Hornet launched the first Smile Mile in Watford on Sunday, he may have been unaware that among the dozens of runners completing the one mile course was a former Olympian and double London Marathon winner.

Joyce Smith MBE, 71, helped Mayor Dorothy Thornhill promote the town’s first event aimed at runners and walkers over 45.

The veteran runner competed in two Olympic Games, 12 years apart, and also won the first two London Marathon women’s races in 1981 and 1982.

She is now a trustee of the London Marathon, while her former coach and husband of 49 years, Bryan, is a race director.

The couple, who have six grandchildren, live in Tudor Manor Gardens, Garston.

She said: “It’s a good thing they were all doing it. We have got very good facilities in Watford. And if you can get older people out walking, the kids might follow as well.”

Although she is now famous as a marathon runner, Joyce’s athletics career started as a sprinter.

Speaking to the Watford Observer this week, she said: “I did athletics at school but I didn’t continue on leaving school. Then at 16 I thought I would take it up to widen my social awareness.

“I thought I was a sprinter because that’s all you could do at school. But they asked me if I would run the 880 yards in a club match and I broke the club record in 2:31 so from that day I became a middle distance runner.”

Growing up in Barnet, Joyce first joined Hampstead Harriers, before teaming up with Barnet and District, Barnet Ladies and then Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers.

“I started at 880 yards, then 1500m and 3000m so I was always looking for the longer events and eventually moved up to the marathon.

“I won the National Cross Country championships in 1959 and 1960. I failed to make the Olympics in Rome in 1960 when the 800m went in for the first time [Joyce finished fourth in the qualifying heats].”

After several years away from international competition, Joyce returned to top-class running in 1965 by winning the WAAA mile title.

And her comeback continued following the birth of her first daughter, Lisa, in 1968.

She said: “The International Cross Country championships were held for the first time in 1967 so I made those teams. I was third in 1971, I won in 1972 and second in 1973.

“In the winter of 1971/72, Bryan said a lot of people I had beaten were going to the Olympics but we had already booked to go to Munich for the Olympics with some club friends. I hit the track and did well and made the team.

“I was overwhelmed at the time. I was also chosen as captain, which was an honour. It was my first games. I took it as being an honour and wishing the girls good luck for their events.”

Running the 1500m, Joyce ran a UK record of 4:11.3 in her heat, and improved again in the semis to record an even faster time of 4:09.4. However, it was not enough to see her into the final.

She said: “I never dreamed I would ever go to the Olympics before 1972, having missed out in 1960.”

After Munich, the 3000m became part of the European Games, held in Rome in 1974, where Joyce won a bronze medal.

She and Bryan then celebrated the birth of their second daughter Lia in 1976.

Joyce, née Byatt, said: “I tried to get back into international running in 1977/78 but my age was starting to get the better of me.

“There was more talk about a marathon for women (until then men and women ran marathons together) so in 1979 I ran my first one – the 1979 British Championships in Sandbach.

Watford Observer: Joyce smith competing in a marathon for Avon Cosmetics in Waldneil, Germany, in 1979.

Joyce competing in a marathon for Avon Cosmetics in Waldneil, Germany, in 1979.

“I was mixed with men. I won it [the women’s race] and ran 2hr 41m, nine minutes inside the previous British best time for women.

“I was invited to Waldneil in Germany. I won that international race doing another personal best time. Then I got invited to the Tokyo marathon. Japan was putting on the first women’s only race and I won that. So my marathon career took off.

“I went back to Tokyo in 1980 and won it again in 2hr 30.17m. Then I won London in 1981 and 1982.

“It had already been announced the marathon for women was going into the first world championships in Helsinki in 1983, where I finished ninth. Then it was going into the Olympics in 1984 for the first time in Los Angeles so I wanted to make that team. I finished 11th in the race.

Watford Observer: Joyce Smith competing in Los Angeles in 1984.

Joyce competing in Los Angeles in 1984.

“I was 46 years old and I stood down from international racing after that, only running in races where the race director wanted me in the race.

“I was the oldest track and field competitor at those games. The last marathon I did was the Twin Cities, in Minneapolis and St Paul [in Minnesota, USA] in 1986. I had a dreadful time. It was freezing cold, snowing at the start. That put me off.

“I tried to go over 50 [years old] but you get so far in your training you get injured so after a few years I gave that up because my body didn’t want to do it any more.”

Following the end of her own running career, Joyce became team manager for the Great Britain women’s road running teams before announcing her retirement when she turned 60.

Watford Observer: Joyce with husband Bryan and daughter Lia outside Buckingham Palace after receiving her MBE.

Joyce with husband Bryan and daughter Lia outside Buckingham Palace after receiving her MBE.

Joyce was handed an MBE in the Queen’s Honour List of January 1984, for services to sport.

And last year, in November, she returned to Tokyo for the 30th anniversary of the women’s marathon, where she was the official starter.

Bryan and Joyce met when her Barnet Ladies team joined with Shaftesbury Harriers, to become Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers.

Then when Joyce’s coach decided to concentrate on his own running, Bryan agreed to coach her, in 1958.

“I have coached her ever since,” he said. “When Joyce was running, the sport was very much an amateur sport. Now athletics is a professional sport. They run for money.”

Looking back on her career on the road, Joyce said: “I still think of the 1972 Olympics as my best achievement. I never thought I would to to the Olympics.

“I trained twice a week. I still went to work, for Rocket of London, part-time for 26 years. After I had Lia I was able to work at home, so I could always fit my running around my work.

“I think you look back with pride. The Olympics is the pinnacle of sport. The fact I managed to achieve two, 12 years apart, was unique.”