Jacqueline Hansen, 69, a long time resident of Southern California, avoided sports (she says sports avoided her) until her senior year in high school (1966) when she found herself on the first girls track team. The longest race was 440 yards, and Jacqueline was no sprinter, but she found herself loving to run endlessly on the track. The passion continued into college (with the mile being the longest women’s race) and eventually found herself being coached by Laszlo Tabori (third human to run a sub four mile). He gave her permission to race a marathon in Culver City and won that. Next year she went to Boston and won that. Then back to Culver City and won that again with a world record, 2:43:55. In 1975, at the Nike-OTC Marathon, Jacqueline was the first woman to go sub 2:40 with a world record 2:38:19. Now retired from running, teaching. and coaching, Jacqueline has a book (I’ve read twice) A Long Time Coming: Running Through The Women’s Marathon Revolution, available in paperback, and for only $5 on your Kindle. It’s a great read..
1. First of all, because most of us are Oregonians, what was it about the 1975 race that produced the world record and lifetime PR? Course, conditions, competition, crowds?
I was attracted to the inaugural OTC Marathon course for a few simple reasons. 1) It was to become the Olympic Trials Marathon Course the following year, so I knew it’d be fast and accurate. 2) It fit my training schedule, being a fall marathon with a lot of long summer days for ideal training leading up to it. 3) It’s Eugene. It was bound to be cool weather with a chance of drizzle. Ideal running conditions. All predictions came true. I didn’t care about crowds or large number of participants and the initial race was not large. But I knew the Eugene audience was an informed and appreciative one! I had Janet Heinonen and Lili Ledbetter monitoring my progress, making sure my water bottles were waiting for me and informing the spectators throughout what my performance was developing into. I came in 11th. Some guy on the sideline yelled, catch one more, for the top ten, you’ll get a watch. I thought, I’ve got something much better. Although “sports psychology” was not yet a term in 1975, I experienced a classic “peak performance,” in reflection – euphoric and effortless in every way! I love that Jon Anderson, the men’s winner, said there were a lot of men who would be happy with a finish-time like mine. Jon and I previously won Boston together too. His presence was like a good omen.
2. You also ran a 50 miler wherein you set about ten world records along the way. Was it by design, dedication, and/or divine intervention?
Eleven WRs to be exact. I don’t count them very often, because they’re soft records. Who runs 50 miles on the track?! My overall goal was to break 7 hours, which meant that my pace was bound to break a lot of records en route. Unfortunately, my lap counters lost track and missed me twice. So, all records were a half-mile long. Worse, I hit the proverbial wall after mile 35, laid down for 30 minutes, then finished slowly, so I did not get the 50-mile record, but did get the win. I was one-and-done with ultras. It was just the opposite of the peak performance I experienced in my best marathon.
3. Your wonderful book is replete with stories about running friends and competitors, legends like yourself. What’s a fun fact or story about one or two of them that most don’t know?
I hardly know which to choose. With respect to the late, great Tom Fleming, I’ll say that he was a ferocious competitor and a perfect gentleman! Once, he and Bill Rodgers and I traveled to Puerto Rico for the San Juan 30K. We were housed in an abandoned condominium building with just enough water in the rotting pool to attract mosquitoes which came right through our unscreened windows into our not-air-conditioned rooms. Well, Tom’s room had air conditioning and screens on the windows, so we all crashed in his apartment. Much to the chagrin of my chaperones. Bill & I were the eventual race winners and we went home to New Jersey with Tom and stayed in his house while I competed the next weekend in our Track & Field Nationals. What a host!
Another time, Tom and I won the inaugural Cleveland Marathon together. The mayor showed up to award the “winner” with the key to the city. I noticed there was only one key and told the race director to give it to Tom. He had a plane to catch and I was staying on another day, to receive a key later . . . . thirty-plus years later I was still waiting. Tom only learned of the story at that point and publicly announced that it was my turn to take possession of the key for the next thirty-plus years. And that was the last correspondence we had before his untimely death. I miss him, but that key is the key to a treasure trove of memories.
4. As a major woman revolutionary, what is it that guys still don’t get about women’s running and racing?
Up front, allow me to say that other male runners were always supportive of women runners. An Olympian, Dick Burkle once said to me “I cannot imagine what it must be like to fight for every event. As a male, I was born with the God-given right to run whatever distance I want!” I may have been the rabble-rouser but I was not alone. I represented the International Runners Committee, made up of 13 men and women lobbying for women’s distance events. From Eugene, Joe Henderson was our Executive Director, and Janet Heinonen joined to take over the newsletter chronicling our every step. Beyond lobbying successfully to obtain the marathon in the Games of 1984, we ultimately brought an international class action lawsuit against the “powers that be” who refused to allow women to race longer than a mile in the Olympic Games. (The suit was for the 5000m and 10,000m.)
For the most part, the obstacles consisted of male figures who were completely out-of-touch with women athletes. In particular, the president of the IAAF said “women distance runners were boring and wouldn’t sell tickets at the gate.”
History repeated itself in 2010 when the women ski jumpers faced the same discrimination, for the same arguments, and they followed our (IRC) lawsuit as a model to gain their own access to the 2014 Olympic Games for the first time.
(Don’t misunderstand, neither group won in the courts. It was more like you can lose a battle but still win the war. It’s a much longer story.)
5. Laszlo Tabori was not viewed as a coach for marathoners. Why? What was it about him and his methods that co-produced the success you enjoyed?
Well, there was a time when he did produce several good marathoners, including Miki Gorman, Leal-Ann Reinhart, and Mark Covert . . . all on a national and international level. But of course, he was best known for producing middle distance runners like himself. His workouts were mainly all intervals all the time.
Upon his recent passing, one friend of mine said Laszlo and I were like lightning in a bottle. I like that. I came to him as a real novice with no real running experience, so I simply adapted to his system and it had to be a gradual process. As for turning to the marathon, I think we were both learning as we went along. A well-known So Cal marathoner, Donna Gookin and her teammate, the late Eileen Waters, said at my first marathon, “here come the speedsters, and it’s all over for us LSD (Long Slow Distance) runners.” Maybe they knew something?
By the way, it was me watching those two women navigate that 50-mile track race that made me want to give it a try.
6. What are some of the tough choices you’ve made that made you who you are?
Once I won Boston, invitations came in to run other races for the first time in my life. I had to choose between staying home and training over the summer, when I wanted to continue backpacking and camping the summer long like usual. That was a lifestyle change and it was very significant to me.
7. Name three of your personal heroes, and why you admire them so much?
Because she was the role model and first track star I met in my first track club. She gave me good advice, checked on me when I was injured, and became an activist and leader in sports in her home country of Taiwan.
Doris Brown Heritage.
She dominated women’s distance running (800, mile, cross country) when I started racing. She mentored me early on at a development running camp. Later, we even coached a running camp together. She was involved in the administration of our sport (WLDR – USATF) and coached me to become a USA Coach taking teams overseas. She joined me in the IRC and was an active lobbyist. She nominated me to join her in the National Distance running Hall of Fame.
We shared just a few starting lines, as my career was waning and hers beginning, at least in marathon running. But we were friends until her passing.
She was, as Janet Heinonen once said, “a woman without controversy.”
I called her the most gracious woman to walk on earth. She was without a doubt the most talented woman distance runner to grace the planet.
8. XC teams lose by the closest of margins, often because one or more on the team didn’t finish with their best effort, drifting through the final 50, or 20, or even last few yards. How do you coach them to give it their all, on their backs and toes up just beyond the finish line?
When I’ve coached my own cross country teams, I tell them that I can coach them on form, speed, strategy, tactics, endurance, hill running, but I cannot coach “heart.”
Having “heart” comes from within. In other words, they have to “want it” more than I want it for them. I say “Run with heart.”
I give my athletes a four-part strategy for racing. It of course works well for the mile on the track, but can be applied to any distance, road, track or cross country.
One, they must get off the start line quick, if just for a short distance, to stay out of traffic and get a good position. They know where they should be relative to their teammates, and relative to their league competitors (if applicable).
Two, in this part, they should be on cruise control, and see the leaders but don’t be the leader. Save something for the second half of the race.
Three – this is the tough part, just after the halfway mark and the body wants to naturally slow down. They must increase the effort just to stay the same pace. This is where the “moment of truth” comes in, where only the runner knows if they slowed down, didn’t react to being passed, broke contact with the pack, whatever it is, it’s that moment of giving up or giving in to negative thoughts. It’s where one has to be mentally tough and find another gear.
Part four, the finale, is to simply give it all you’ve got, pass as many competitors as possible, give full effort all the way across the line and finish with nothing left in you.
9. Your message at a college commencement?
In recent years, I delivered such a speech at my alma mater college for an audience of honor roll student-athletes. The theme included these three points, which I expanded on from my perspective as a one-time collegiate athlete.
Respect your history.
Envision your future.
Live in the present.
10. Books on your night table?
Too many to name them all.
Two categories, to read and to re-read.
Among the to re-read:
I refer to these books when answering questions, or when quoting them, and gleaning something new each time.
Laszlo Tabori Biography
Pete Atis Petersons’ Run for Fun
Joe Henderson’s Pacesetters and Starting Lines
To be read:
Jim Ryun’s Courage to Run
I just met him for the first time this summer, where we were co-speakers at a high school distance running camp in Culver, Indiana.
Edward Rutherford’s Paris
I have read all his other historical novels, and I’ve been waiting for the block of time to immerse myself in his tales of Paris, one of my favorite cities on earth.
I call his books my “surgery novels” because only when recuperating, do I have the time to get though his 500-page books!
Richard Askwith’s The Rise and Fall of Emil Zatopek
I am as fascinated with his story as with Petersons’ story and with Laszlo’s.
Perhaps it’s as much about the adversity each one overcame in their lives, as it is about their incredible athletic talent. I had the good fortune to meet Zatopek on several occasions, and of course, Pete and Laszlo have been a big part of my life for decades. Pete has been a close friend, and Laszlo, my one and only coach.
Lastly, for pure fun, I read or re-read all of Sue Grafton’s mystery novels better known as the alphabet mysteries. She was recommended to me by a close friend who thought the main character, Kinsey reminded her of me. I am flattered and have been hooked ever since, Grafton passed away this year, leaving a legacy of stories referred to as the “alphabet now ends at Y.”