Starting Line 1928 is an oral history project documenting the lived experiences of female distance-running pioneers. This is the fifth episode of the podcast. We hope you’ll listen, and hit the “subscribe” button on your preferred podcasting app so you never miss an interview. And if you have suggestions for pioneers to profile, or want to join this effort, email us at email@example.com. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and being a part of this unfolding story.
Freddi Carlip started casually running in 1978 as an outlet from her daily life as a stay-at-home mom to two small children. Little did she know that the healthy activity would soon become her life’s work.
In addition to serving as a founding member of the Starting Line 1928 oral history project, Carlip has served multiple terms as the President of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), has been publisher and editor of Runner’s Gazette since 1981, and successfully helped lobby for the inclusion of women’s 5,000 meters and marathon distances in the Olympic Games.
Reporting for Runner’s Gazette took her to races all over the world — including in Jamaica and Israel — but her favorite running memory remains her very first 10K, a local race in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where she raised her family. At the time, she had just started running with some other young mothers in the area and their husbands convinced them to give the distance a shot despite lack of running experience or proper clothing like sports bras, which didn’t exist yet.
“We did a lot of walking, a lot of talking and we were last — and it was the happiest finish I’ve ever had,” Carlip says. “Here we were, finishing 6.2 miles without ever running more than two [miles]. Not that we ran the whole thing but we finished and we felt good. That started my running history, it really did.”
Carlip got involved with the local running community, encouraging other women to try the sport for the first time and organizing local races. The whole family got involved when she and her late ex-husband bought Runner’s Gazette and published the newspaper out of their own home.
“We called it a Mid-Atlantic grassroots running publication, although it did go all over the country and Canada,” she says. “We wanted to put in races that wouldn’t get coverage anywhere else. We kept it very homey and folksy, poetry, features, people’s personal running stories.”
She also got involved with RRCA, serving on the organization’s board as the Eastern Director for running clubs in the Mid-Atlantic, and as vice president before serving two terms as RRCA’s third-ever female president. Carlip was often recognized at local road races thanks to the long white gloves she wore with her running outfits as part of her Miss Road Manners persona; her popular advice column advised newbies on the basics of running etiquette (i.e. the inside lane of the track is reserved for faster runners, and if you hear “track!” then move into lane two).
“I look back now and I don’t think of myself as a trailblazer. We were setting the standard for other women and encouraging them.”
Note about the author: Johanna Gretschel is a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster in Austin, Texas. She is the Managing Editor of The Striker Texas and a regular contributor to Outside, Runner’s World, SELF, Women’s Running, ESPN and more.
Starting Line 1928 is an oral history project documenting the lived experiences of female distance-running pioneers. This is the fourth episode of the podcast. We hope you’ll listen, and hit the “subscribe” button on your preferred podcasting app so you never miss an interview. And if you have suggestions for pioneers to profile, or want to join this effort, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and being a part of this unfolding story.
Alisa Harvey’s impressive running career spans decades and distances. The first time she qualified for the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials was in 1988, in the 1500 meters, when she was still a student at the University of Tennessee. The last time she did so was in the 800 meters in 2008—at age 42.
In between, she won gold in the 1991 Pan American Games in the 1500 meters. She qualified for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials by running 2:49:28 in her debut at the distance. And, she’s notched countless victories in road races, including the Fifth Avenue Mile and the Army Ten-Miler.
At 56, she might no longer be able to match her personal best of 1:59.72 in the 800 meters, but Harvey still competes at a high level, chasing Master’s records on the track and the roads. And, she’s coaching athletes who range from ages 10 to 95, aiming to help them pursue the same long-term success she’s experienced.
“I’m still at it and enjoying it—slowing down but loving it and trying to stay healthy,” she said.
Harvey grew up in newly desegregated northern Virginia, and loved running from the time she began competing in the Hershey Hall of Fame summer track series at age 10. Growing up, she watched the summer Olympics and had two athletic idols: sprinter Wilma Rudolph and gymnast Nadia Comăneci.
She wanted to be both, and she had reason to hope. On the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, she was always the best girl in both the flexed-arm hang and the 600-yard dash (where she beat most of the boys, too). In between track meets, she’d teach herself gymnastics moves in the basement.
She made the gymnastics team at Jefferson High School, but soon realized running was her passion, and prioritized track. The sport gave the self-described “loner, a by-myself kind of girl” a sense of identity and purpose. “I wasn’t known for anything else but my running. That’s what I kind of latched onto,” she said. “I didn’t have many extras, like summer camps or lots of material goods, but I did have my running and my legs and a TV set and goals.”
She started out in sprints, 100 and 200 meters, and was good enough to place top three in most of her races. She also dabbled in the long jump and high jump (a feat, since she’s only 5’2”). At a meet in the middle of the season, the team’s star 800-meter runner was out of town. Harvey reluctantly stepped up in her place—and won.
“I was always very competitive,” she said, a trait likely passed down from her mother, and enhanced by growing up with two older brothers. “I enjoyed winning more than finishing top three, and I did it with such ease, the coach noticed.”
From then on, middle distance became her sweet spot. She also excelled at blazing new trails and breaking down barriers.
Her sophomore year, there weren’t enough women to form a cross-country team—but she and three other runners went to all the meets anyway. Though they couldn’t score points, Harvey made it to the state meet, and the coach gave her the school’s MVP award over all the boys. The next year, enough girls signed up to make a full team. “It just takes pioneers, sometimes, to get things going,” Harvey said.
She also noticed how few Black students there were in many spaces, including the homecoming court and the cheerleading squad. She went out for cheerleading, knowing that as a former gymnast and current track star, she’d be difficult to pass over. “I made it, the varsity team. I only did it one season, but after that, there were other Black cheerleaders,” she said. “Things got better because people just said, you know what, Alisa can do it, why not? What’s the big deal?”
As her successes piled up, Harvey realized running might offer her yet another gift: a chance at a college education. She set her sights on the University of Tennessee early, and after a rough start—the coach who recruited her left, and her grades suffered—Harvey excelled.
She ran on a national champion 4×800 meter relay team in 1984 and won the 1986 NCAA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship at 1500 meters. Her senior year, she clocked times of 2:01 in the 800 meters and 4:08 in the 1500 meters—good enough to qualify for the Trials.
When her NCAA eligibility was up, Nike offered her a $12,000 contract and a spot on the Athletics West Track Club to prepare for the chance to make the Olympic team. At the Trials, she made the finals, but fell short of the squad that would head to Seoul for the Games.
However, one of her career highlights would come just a few years later, at the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba. There, she won gold in the 1500 meters and silver in the 800 meters. She lost only to the hometown hero Ana Quirot, with an audience that included Fidel Castro.
Despite several more attempts, Harvey never made an Olympic team. But as a pro-athlete, she continued forging new pathways, including having a baby. That was far from typical in 1994, when her oldest daughter, Virginia Hill, was born.
“The running community wasn’t quite ready,” Harvey said. Her contract with Nike had already expired, so that wasn’t an issue; still, her manager dropped her, and many others questioned her choice.
Harvey wasn’t an athlete who could run during pregnancy. Instead, she did workout videos starring Kathy Smith, who at the time was pregnant with future Olympian Kate Grace. Still, she dedicated herself to returning to top form afterward—and she did, making the Trials again in 1996.
In recent years, she’s been heartened by watching runners like Alysia Montaño and Allyson Felix speak up about the challenges of having children and returning postpartum. “That was a go-girl moment for me, for sure,” Harvey said. Of course, she’s disappointed that companies still put barriers between athletes and motherhood. “But I’m glad they were vocal enough to come back at them. I think that’s why things continue that way for too long, because we don’t say anything or don’t do anything.”
A divorce, a move back to Virginia, and a job at a running store inspired Harvey’s move up to longer distances, including 10-mile races and marathons. She’s won the Army Ten-Miler four times, and in 1999, ran 2:49:28 in her first marathon in Richmond, a time that qualified her for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials at age 35. “I was very strong in my 30s—probably my prime days, I would say, even more than my 20s,” she said.
Harvey coached for a while at George Mason University, and now enjoys helping everyone from high-school athletes to older adults achieve their own running goals. Good sleep, proper nutrition, and listening to your body have allowed her to thrive for years, and she passes those messages along.
She’s always trained at lower volumes and higher intensities, and finds she needs a little more rest as she ages. Still, she’s clocked American and world Master’s records at the 800 meters and the mile, and finds the pursuit of more inspires her—up next, it’s the 55 and older categories.
Despite some difficult experiences along the way—including brushes with sexual misconduct, racism, and disordered eating that she discusses in this interview—Harvey remains grateful for all running has brought her, and proud of her accomplishments. Others have also taken note—in 2019, she was inducted into the National Black Distance Running Hall of Fame.
What’s more, running has long given her the chance to serve as a role model for those who might come after her. When women see another successful woman, and especially a Black woman, that makes a big difference in what she can envision for herself.
“Because of my presence in sport, my success in sports, I got a lot of newspaper articles, I got a lot of visibility,” she said. And from early on, when she saw discrimination or injustice, she used that platform to do something about it. “Even in my high school days and in my later days, I’m still not gonna stand for it.”
Starting Line 1928 is an oral history project documenting the lived experiences of female distance running pioneers. This is the third episode of the podcast. We hope you’ll listen, and hit the “subscribe” button on your preferred podcasting app so you never miss an interview. And if you have suggestions for pioneers to profile, or want to join this effort, email us at email@example.com. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and being a part of this unfolding story.
For Judy Shapiro-Ikenberry, blazing a trail as an early female runner came naturally. Her parents were progressive “radicals,” in her words, and in California, where she spent most of her life, people were generally more open to women in sport than on the East Coast.
Born in Brooklyn in 1942, Judy Shapiro and her family moved to California when she was an infant in hopes the warm air would be better for her three brothers’ asthma.
It was there that 12-year-old Judy ran in her first track meet, where she and a friend from school were the only girls. She competed in every event on the track and in the field, coming in second to last in all of them. (She beat Karen, the friend who brought her along, because the girl had asthma.) Still, she thought the day was “really fun” and continued participating in track meets.
Shapiro’s mother supported her daughter’s new hobby and eventually decided she needed a coach. A friend suggested Dennis Ikenberry, a runner and student at Occidental College, who might like to help out on weekends. He started coaching the young runner — mostly urging her not to run the first lap of her 800-meter races so fast — and never stopped
In 1960, Shapiro, Ikenberry and her family piled in the car and drove to Corpus Christi, Texas, for the national track championships. While they were there, Shapiro’s mother noticed the poor conditions in the housing provided for Black athletes — former military barracks with no screens on the windows and no hot running water — and was “horrified,” the runner remembers. Her mother wrote a letter to the Amateur Athletic Union explaining her concerns, and a number of athletes and coaches signed it.
The following weekend, at the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field in Abilene, Texas, Shapiro said the officials put everyone who had signed the letter in the same heat, to eliminate some of the critics early.
“So the next weekend, when we got to the Olympic Trials, anybody who’d signed that letter … was put into the same heats for whatever it was they were running, so they [could] eliminate all those difficult people [who were] making a mess. So the heat I was in, we had eight people, and I think five of us broke the national record,” she said.
Still, she made the final and finished fifth in 2:19.5. At age 17, she was the youngest runner in the women’s race.
In 1961, Shapiro competed in Israel at the Maccabiah Games, an international competition for Jewish athletes. She participated in five events — 800 meters, 200 meters, high jump, broad (long) jump, and javelin — and remembers it as one of the highlights of her career. But running wasn’t the only thing on her mind: “That was really fun because I was 17, and there were all these gorgeous young men athletes. … Of course, Dennis wasn’t happy with that,” she recalled.
Shapiro was injured at the time of the 1964 Olympic Trials. Instead of traveling to the meet, she married her coach, Dennis Ikenberry. Together they raised three kids, Richie, Shelly, and Becky, while staying involved in the running world throughout their lives.
She continued to train and took on longer distances while working as a teacher. She won her first marathon, the 1967 Las Vegas Marathon, in 3:40:51, just six months after Kathrine Switzer’s famous scuffle with officials at the Boston marathon. She went on to run a few more marathons and in 1974 she won the first U.S. marathon championship for women in 2:55:18. She later moved to ultrarunning and won the national 50-mile track championship in 1977.
When Judy’s athletic career started to slow in the late 1970s, the Ikenberrys started Race Central, a race timing company that helped put on some of the biggest races in the U.S. and around the world.
“I really loved yelling at volunteers,” she recalls. “That was my thing.”
The couple also ran a running store in Rialto, California, for a few years, and Dennis coached runners throughout his life.
When she talks about the barriers she faced as a female runner, Shapiro-Ikenberry mostly shrugs.
“What you could register for, you registered for and ran. And if you couldn’t register, you just sat on the sidewalk till the gun went off and then ran,” she said.
Other people worried about athletics would make women infertile or tried to stop them from competing, but the busy runner didn’t have much time to get involved in politics.
“I was raising kids. I was teaching. I was active in the local community,” she said. “I didn’t worry about other concerns so much.”
Besides, it was always officials who gave women a hard time, not the male competitors.
“They didn’t like it when we beat them, but they were very accepting and very encouraging,” she remembered. “It was always the officials that were the problem, you know, and it’s just two different classes of people. And they get their kicks from enforcing the rules. We got our kicks from being in shape.”
Note about the author: Laura Fay is a journalist and runner.
Starting Line 1928 is an oral history project documenting the lived experiences of female distance running pioneers. This is the second episode of the podcast. We hope you’ll listen, and hit the “subscribe” button on your preferred podcasting app so you never miss an interview. And if you have suggestions for pioneers to profile, or want to join this effort, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and being a part of this unfolding story.
Marilyn Bevans, born in 1949 in Baltimore Maryland, was the first African-American woman marathoner. Her career highlights include winning two Baltimore Marathons and being a top finisher in several Boston Marathons, including second female overall in 1977. Bevans, a retired teacher, still lives in Baltimore and is a girls’ high school track coach.
Bevans was fortunate to come from a family that loved track and field. Her uncle would take her to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia where she fell in love with the sprinters, who were mostly African-American. Black women dominated the sport then and she already knew of Wilma Rudolph who won three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Her first race, a 100-yard dash, was as a 12-year-old. She was the only Black girl in the race. She had this made, she thought, her confidence getting the better of her. But she quickly realized she was sorely out of her league. “All I saw was everyone’s backside as they flew past me,” she recalled. She had no clue about pacing, timing, nothing. She realized she wasn’t cut out to be a sprinter.
As a kid, Bevans spent all her free time on the move, whether that was playing basketball, running through the parks, chasing her friends, she was an outdoors kid. In school, though, there was no outlet for her running. No track team or cross-country for girls. So on her own, she walked to a reservoir and started to run loops. After a few loops she realized she was cut out for distance. But there was an unwritten rule that no female was allowed to run distance, only sprints. Bevans decided she was going to break that rule.
After finishing Morgan State University in 1967, she attended Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, for a master’s degree in physical education. But still no track for females. So like time and time again, she ran on her own. But this time someone was watching.
The men’s track coach, Vern Cox, noticed her and invited her to run with the men. She was elated to finally have some company, even if she could only keep up with the back-of-the-packers. The men were friendly, considerate, and encouraged her. Soon she was entering local races but often she was the only Black female in the race. It didn’t bother her, as she never wanted to make that her personal statement. She just kept her head down, concentrated on the task at hand – the race – and went back to the dorms to study. Upon graduating she returned to Baltimore and a teaching job. She joined a running group and started running longer distances. When a small running club organized the first Maryland Marathon in 1973, she decided to try it. Kathrine Switzer took first place and Bevans took second in 3:31:45. Bevans found her distance.
Encouraged by her good time, three months later she ran the Beltsville Marathon, taking five minutes off her time. Two months later she was at the starting line for her first Boston, finishing in 3:17:42. Bevans was making a name for herself. She started training more seriously, putting in 100-mile weeks on top of her full-time job as a physical education teacher. Despite her elite times, no one was reaching out to her for coaching or sponsorship or interviews. If she was mentioned at all in the media, it was usually something along the lines of the Black female who won the marathon last year but all eyes will be on the – fill in the blank – white girl. “Sure there was racism and discrimination, but I chose not to let it get to me. I was always a solo runner on my own and that was fine with me,” said Bevans. She was also too polite back then to make a scene when called the N-word. Now, she states, it would be a whole new ballgame, saying, “I’d get real mad.”
“Sure there was racism and discrimination, but I chose not to let it get to me. I was always a solo runner on my own and that was fine with me”
— Marilyn Bevans
Bevans personal best was 2:49:56 at the 1979 Boston Marathon. After more than 25 marathons, she developed exercise-induced asthma and had to stop competing. She had qualified for the first qualifying standards for the women’s marathon in the Olympics, but realized she was done. “I would have loved to run in the Olympic trials that one time, just for the experience. I don’t know if I would’ve made the team, but that would have been great,” she adds.
Bevans has no regrets. She did what she loved to do and did it on her own terms. In her own quiet way, she became a trailblazer for African-American women and set a standard for grace and decency. In 1977 Track & Field News ranked her the 10th fastest female marathoner in the world. She ran her PR of 2:49:56 at the 1979 Boston Marathon. In November 2013, she was inducted into the National Black Marathoners Association’s Distance Runner Hall of Fame.
Note about the author: Gail Waesche Kislevitz is an award-winning journalist and the author of six books on running and sports. She was a columnist for Runner’s World for fifteen years and her freelance work has appeared in Shape, Marathon and Beyond, and New York Runner.
Starting Line 1928 is an oral history project documenting the lived experiences of female distance running pioneers. This is the first episode of the podcast. We hope you’ll listen, and hit the “subscribe” button on your preferred podcasting app so you never miss an interview. And if you have suggestions for pioneers to profile, or want to join this effort, email us at email@example.com. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and being a part of this unfolding story.
Author’s note: The following is just a snippet of the conversation I had with Bjorg Austrheim-Smith. I urge you to listen to the full conversation; we delve deeper into training and the ultrarunning scene of the time.
Bjorg Austrheim-Smith, multiple Western States winner (1981, 1982, 1983), will tell you upfront that her story does not fit the typical narrative, “I was just a stay-at-home mom with three small children who one day stuck the kids in a baby buggy with groceries underneath it and started running the streets. I needed to get out of the house,” she said.
She started racing a local three-mile race and she will readily admit that she is not a middle-distance runner. So, when there was a marathon on the streets she ran, she signed up.
“And, and as a matter of fact that first marathon I ran I came to the start line with my husband and two kids. And two men came up to my husband and said, ‘she’s not running’ and my husband said, ‘yes, yes,’ and they said, ‘no she’s not.’” “And they tried to pull me off,” she said. Her husband used a bicycle to keep the men away while Austraheim-Smith hid in the bushes until the race began. She ran a 3:45.
Austrheim-Smith has always had a sense of adventure. After serving as a tour guide to a group of Americans, she decided to immigrate to the US. “So they didn’t like me and I didn’t like them, and so, when we were done, they said, ‘we would like you to come to the US. We will be your sponsors’ and I said, if you have the guts to offer that to me, I have the guts to take you up on it, so I can go to America,” she said.
She continued to run with a group that was running the three-mile races and was convinced to do a 50 miler. “I started training every day and I did my first 50 and there were the absolute worst conditions ever. It was windy, it was February; it was pouring. The rain came in sideways and we were running on the levee,” she said “That was the first 50 ultra. I was never doing that again and, of course, that group said, ‘let’s go there’s a 100 miler.’ I said, “over my dead body. I’m not doing a 100 ultra.”
But with some prodding, she made it to the start line and finished two minutes and eleven seconds out of first. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I put one foot in front of the other. My family didn’t know what they were doing either and then the following three years I won Western States and then took second and then fourth the next year” she said.
During a race, she met training partner Bruce Labelle. They would push each other on longer runs on the weekend doing double 50s. “I said, how can we go out and kill ourselves in training, because I don’t want to be dead during a race, so I might as well, kill myself training.”
She was doing about 200-mile training weeks. “What I did with my children, we had an agreement we’ll take the baby buggy. And we’ll go to the bakery and you can get whatever you want and it doesn’t matter what. One donut was 15 miles. So I would never put my shoes on anything under 15 miles,” she said, “So my son would ask if it was one-donut day or a two-donut day. Two donuts is 30 miles so that’s how we measured.”
After winning Western States, she garnered a sponsorship from Nike but gear at the time was just a smaller version of men’s gear. “I am built like a woman, I have curves, and so they did not make clothes for women.” She said, “It was a great problem, both shoes and clothes didn’t do it for women.”
She still runs every day, “It keeps you healthy. I don’t believe in sitting in a rocking chair and waiting to die,” she said. She also continues to mentor and coach runners, “I like to help. I’m a problem solver. I like problems to solve.”
Looking back, she didn’t realize she was making history, “I was doing it for my own survival, because I was a stay-at-home mom. And I felt that I needed to do something for me, because I felt like my brain was dying. I needed something for me. It just turned out that way, I just didn’t know. I was pleased when people would come out and maybe I encouraged somebody else to do that,” she said.
Note about the author: Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka is a longtime supporter of women’s running and is part of the leadership team for Starting Line 1928. She is currently an assistant scholarly professor at Washington State University in the Murrow College of Communication. She enjoys running all distances and has taken Austraheim-Smith’s advice to just run with the toddler in a jogging stroller.