My trip to Charleston in 1973 was the first road race invitation I ever received, and was no doubt extended as a result of my recent Boston Marathon victory. How I came to Boston is a story for another day, however, just the year before, I was simply a middle distance runner with modest results in the mile, two-mile and cross country. Now that I’d won my first two marathons, Western Hemisphere Marathon in December 1972 and Boston in April 1973, my running career took a new turn and forever changed my life.
So it was with complete surprise and delight that I received an invitation from Don Cohen to run in his Charleston 15-mile Distance run in West Virginia on September first. I shared the good news with Laszlo (my coach), and assured him that while I had plans to go on a backpacking adventure with friends out of Vancouver for several weeks between July and August, I would be back in time for race day. Besides, I further assured him, I’d take my running shoes and whenever we made day camp, I’d go off for long runs and the altitude would be an added benefit. My optimism was met with less than enthusiasm.
I remember the exchange like it was yesterday. Laszlo said that I would not be going hiking, that I would stay home and train. After all, he said, “you can hike when you’re 84, but no one is going to pay to watch you run.” We had made such elaborate plans for this trip, it was with great reluctance I complied and called my traveling partners Gary Stormo and Jeff Rohr to break my disappointing news to them. Come to think of it, that actually was the day my running career changed; indeed my entire life changed. Previously, the running supported backpacking and hiking, and now the hiking was disappearing from my life. Flash forward many years to around 2009. I called Laszlo from a mountain-top in Mammoth to remind him of the conversation. I told him that even before 84 years of age, I realized he was right – that hiking was still an option and there wasn’t a soul on earth who would pay to watch me run.
Recently, from reader “Bob,” came a question about the pictures I posted for the Charleston 15mi. Distance Run in the summer of 1973. The question was why are Steve Prefontaine, Dave Wottle, Neil Cusack, Tom Fleming, Jeff Galloway, Jesse Owens and I there. It was obvious that I was going to run the 15K, but obvious that Pre was not. I explained that
meet director Don Cohen also instituted an athletics hall of fame, attended by many track and field luminaries, and additionally, he staged a track and field clinic at which the guests, including Pre, spoke. It took some doing on my part this week, but I did find the negatives for those pictures, plus my journal notes of the journey. (After all, I do have more than 30 years of running journals.) Bob was really resourceful and found news articles describing the history of the event, posting to his own blog at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thehappyrower/5498449618/
Reflecting on my Spring ’73 season, after Boston, I competed in the Mt. SAC Relays, winning the two-mile, and won two other two-mile events in San Diego, including the State championships. When I wasn’t running with Laszlo, I was running with the CSUN track guys, some of whom trained with Laszlo at nearby LA Valley College. I recruited a few more women to comprise a women’s track team for CSUN, including Becky Dennis, and we competed at UCLA, San Diego and went to AIAW National Championships in Hayward, CA. I won the mile at all of them. The season included going with the “guys,” organized by Jon Sutherland, up to run Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, where I was second woman to my former teammate Cheryl Bridges. We also went to compete the “One-Hour Run” in Santa Barbara, where I ran 9 1/2 miles + 366 yards. Later, I became obsessed with that race and eventually got over 10 miles in the coming years. We ran All-Comers Meets at Pierce College that summer, which were something to behold. It was a standing-room-only event, where they ran all track and field events plus cross-country races, and it was an accomplishment to qualify for the culminating final event at the end of summer. My summer included a Fourth of July 15K run in Santa Barbara, winning in 61:15, and a 5000m run three days later in 17:26, which I also won. After my Boston victory, I was doing press and media interviews frequently. Live TV shows really made me nervous, and I see from journal entries that I never went to these without dragging friends along in moral support.
The big news, that summer, was that Laszlo switched our women’s team from LA Track Club to the Beverly Hills Striders. The move included our men, but I’m not sure how much they represented the club, as many of them were still representing their colleges. And so, just days before my departure to Charleston, West Virginia, my new uniform arrived for the big event. Earlier that season, at Mt. SAC, Bill Bragg, who was the promotions representative for Adidas, gave me new shoes, and running gear, so I was all set for the trip. (Note: in those days, Adidas was the only company supporting women’s track and field and generously gave running gear to any and every woman who qualified for national level competition.)
What a great send-off that my friend, Patrick Miller took me to see the 1972 Olympics documentary, Visions of Eight. “So memorable,” I wrote in my running journal. I noted that arriving in Charleston, I worked out early in the morning the day before the race “to beat the heat,” and I “sweat it out running along the river, but it was so pretty!” The lush green landscape, with the stifling humidity and deafening chirping insects and frogs, was a far cry from Southern California. The pre-race day was filled with a press conference, luncheon, track clinic and a “fabulous dinner at the Cohen’s.”
Race day was described as “very hot, but clear,” and “what a course, with the hill early in the race, at 2 ½ miles.” I noted my time as 1:34 for 1st woman, 62nd overall, Francie Larrieu in 2nd & 84th overall; and that the men’s race went to “Jeff Galloway, followed by Rosa, Cusack, Anderson and Fleming, in that order.” A friend of my cousin’s and mine, Greg Sorscek, came out to watch me run, so I even had my very own fan club of one. We celebrated at a big dinner party late that evening, and the next day, I departed for home. That day, I remarked, in my journal, how very sore I was from the hilly course, and only managed a three-mile post-race run. On the other hand, I was richer from the experience as time has told the story of memories that stayed in my heart all these years.
Upon reflection, I noticed the next journal marked the start of my senior year at CSUN the week I returned from Charleston. All my units were tied into a new cross-curriculum course entitled “Search for Identity.” The course was taught by five professors who completely captivated me, it was such a fascinating experience. My final portfolio about my own identity was entitled, what else, “I Am A Runner.”