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Miki Gorman — May, 2014
Michiko ‘Miki’ Gorman is the only woman who has won the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon two times each, winning the 1974 and 1977 Boston Marathon, and the 1976 and 1977 New York City Marathon. She is the last American woman to win the New York City Marathon. Miki was victorious in her first marathon in 1973 at Culver City in 2:46:36, only six seconds off the World Record. She ran her personal best time of 2:39:11 in winning the 1976 NYC Marathon. Miki was also runner-up at the 1975 NYC Marathon and 1976 Boston Marathon. In 1978 she raced a 1:15:58 half-marathon which broke the world record. Miki ran an indoor 100-mile run in 21:04:00 in Los Angeles in 1970. The petite Gorman started running at age 28 with hopes of gaining weight. All of her marathon victories were done while she was in her late-30s and early-40s. She has been inducted into several Halls of Fame including the USATF Masters HOF in 1996, Road Runners Clubs of America HOF in 2001, National Distance Running HOF in 2005 and New York Road Runners HOF in 2012. She is a retired accounting secretary and resides in Vancouver, British Columbia. Miki was very gracious in spending 80 minutes on the telephone for this interview.
GCR:It has been quite a while since you had your marathon success in the 1970s, but you are still the only woman to win the Boston and New York City Marathons twice. Can you believe that you are the only woman to accomplish this feat?
MGOh, I don’t know. I don’t think it is so hard to believe as my times weren’t so fast compared to current times. And there weren’t as many people running so I was lucky. If the marathon then was as competitive as it is now I don’t think I would have done so well.
GCR:Lots of people under the age of 40 or 45 don’t realize the lack of opportunities that girls and women had back then in sports. You were one of the forerunners – what was it like for you when you started as there weren’t many women running?
MGI started running in 1968 with the Los Angeles Athletic Club on their indoor track. I ran on the indoor track for almost two years. Then we asked if I should join the A.A.U. A while later we decided to run outdoors. I didn’t see any other women running on the streets. I always ran with a male friend. When we ran by the Santa Monica Pier old men would look at me with a very curious eye. When I was working people would ask me why I was running as everyone was very interested as to why a woman would run in 1970.
GCR:How did you transition from running indoors for fitness to someone who became interested in running distance and training for marathons?
MGWe had a team of men and women and every day we posted the laps we ran on the wall. That’s how I started as I am a very competitive person. I was the last person after the first week. Then I got more interested and by the end of the first month of October I was in second place among the women. I ran a 100 mile run on the indoor track which was one thousand and seventy-four laps. At that time we didn’t know about the A.A.U. We just did a 24 hour run and planned to run 100 miles no matter how long it took. The goal was to finish 100 miles within 24 hours. That’s how I started as I was very, very competitive. I had to work in the daytime and couldn’t sleep well at night because my feet were swollen. Oh, it was a horrible experience, but I’m glad I did it as that is how I got interested in long distance. During that time I didn’t know about outside competition.
GCR:Who helped you with your training and coached you as you prepared for the 1973 Culver City Marathon?
MGTwo of my best friends, Dr. Myron Shapiro, who was two years older than me, and Ru Dosti, who was five years older, ran with me. The three of us ran and there wasn’t much information or studies at that time of how you train. So, we went by our own experience.
GCR:Did you track how many miles you were running during the weeks and what kind of long runs did you do?
MGAfter we decided to run the Culver City Marathon we did about ten miles a day and, on the weekend, a twenty-miler on Sunday. It was long, slow distance – just long, slow jogging. Then we met the coach, Lazlo Tabori, who was also coaching Jacqueline Hansen. I didn’t meet Jacqueline then though.
GCR:Lazlo was from Hungary and had left years earlier with his coach, Mihaly Igloi – did they both help you and introduce you to the hard track workouts which helped you to get much faster?
MGIgloi (excitedly), yes, yes, Igloi! At first when we ran under Mr. Igloi’s instruction it was hard as he didn’t let us stop – we were always jogging. We had a hard time understanding each other. I think that Igloi told us to train with Lazlo as he lived closer to us. They both did introduce the faster speed training.
GCR:Were there favorite workouts which they had you do or was there a lot of variety?
MGIgloi would have us do an easy jog, then shake out strides, then some at eighty percent. Then we would do repeats for two miles, then 150 yard runs, then some jogging that got faster. It was pretty much the same with Lazlo. Sometimes they would have us go all out for five laps.
GCR:Did you do much fartlek or hill training?
MGYes, we did both of them. Lazlo didn’t believe in them as he was a track person. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he told us to take a rest day and do long, slow distance. But we would do hill training and fartlek when we weren’t with Lazlo. We didn’t tell Lazlo.
GCR:You had run one marathon as a training run, but the 1973 Culver City Marathon was the first one you raced. Could you tell us about that race where you just missed the World Record by six seconds? Were you strong and did you hit the wall?
MGMy competition was with Jacqueline Hansen and she was a strong runner. After she won the 1973 Boston Marathon I met her and I was very happy to meet her. I still remember the conversations as sometimes we would bump into each other at the track. She said, ‘I heard you are going to run at Culver City.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am going to try.’ Then she said, ‘You shouldn’t kill yourself.’ But then she did encourage me. I was looking at her at the starting line and she was the fastest marathon runner. She started so fast that in a minute I lost her. At a turning point I saw her and we looked at each other. I couldn’t run any faster.
GCR:When did you catch Jacqueline and did you go past her pretty easily?
MGOh no. Until about twenty miles I didn’t catch her. She was very fast. I caught her and then slowed down a little bit. I tried to adjust my heart a little bit. I didn’t want to pass her and then have her pass me. I thought that once I passed her I was going to go all out and not turn back. So I slowed and rested for a while. Then there was this boy who had been running with me and the two of us pulled away from Jacqueline. He would look back and tell me, ‘You are one hundred yards ahead of Jacqueline’ and then ‘You are two hundred yards ahead.’ There weren’t many spectators and I was so tired. Nobody was watching which was very discouraging. Then my two running mates were there and my husband was there on his bike which helped. Afterward I was so tired.
GCR:Did Jacqueline congratulate you after the race?
MGShe didn’t congratulate me until two weeks later.
GCR:Then you got ready for the 1974 Boston Marathon which is interesting as Jacqueline was the defending Boston Marathon champ. How did you like the Boston Marathon course, especially the hills in the latter stages of the race including ‘Heartbreak Hill?’
MGI had heard of ‘Heartbreak Hill’ so many times even when I was a little girl in Japan as Keizo Yamada, who had one the Boston Marathon in the 1950s, talked about it. I expected a very, very hard hill. But we had trained so hard. Two months before the race we went up to 120 or 140 miles a week including speed work. I trained well enough that ‘Heartbreak Hill’ wasn’t so tough.
GCR:You mentioned the lack of spectators at Culver City. Was it really exciting on the Boston Marathon route as you were the first woman and the crowds were cheering?
MGOh, yes – I was amazed. There were so many people. And at Wellesley College there was only a space to run through of a yard and a half wide as there were no policemen to control the crowd. People were on the street yelling, ‘First woman, first woman!’ I felt my body was lifted up. I’ll never forget that feeling.
GCR:What do you remember feeling as you crossed the finish line and of the awards ceremony?
MGI was very, very happy. After the race I fell because policeman covered me with a towel. I didn’t fall from fatigue which some people thought. I fell because the towel was so big. If you notice, the women up front don’t usually collapse like many of the men do. I could have gone more, but I couldn’t go faster. Quite often I felt after a marathon that I could keep going, but I didn’t have the speed. I was very excited and my ex-husband was there and very happy.
GCR:Everyone running was an amateur back then, but did winning these big marathons change your life as far as recognition and opening doors?
MGNo, I don’t remember anything like that. It didn’t really open doors for me.
GCR:It’s hard to win big marathon races and at both the 1975 NYC Marathon and 1976 Boston Marathon you ran well but placed second. How tough was it to win when you were facing runners like Kim Merritt?
MGIt was a good race in New York when I came in second, but Kim was so fast! I don’t even remember if I could even see her. There was such a difference between winning and coming in second place. The year before when I won in Boston there were reporters surrounding me, but when I came in second (laughing) nobody talked to me. So I thought, ‘Next year I’m going to train harder and get number one.’
GCR:In the summer of 1976 you went to Sweden and won the World Masters Marathon. What are recollections of that trip and race?
MGWe went to Sweden and the German, Dr. Ernst van Aaken, brought us there. I ran four other events at the World Championships – cross country, 10k, 3,000 meters and 1,500 meters. Then I ran the marathon. I think I won all of them.
GCR:In the fall of 1976 the New York City Marathon changed to the five borough course and you broke 2:40 to win in 2:39:11. Was that an exciting race with the new course?
MGOh, yes. I was lucky I could run the first five borough marathon as New York is so exciting. Oh, that is the year Doris Heritage Brown was there. She is a wonderful lady and real athlete. Doris said she was going to do the same things before the race as me – the same things to eat and same training. I think we had a pancake that morning. At the start she didn’t stay with me as I was too slow in the beginning. We didn’t run together until a point in Brooklyn where there was a turnaround and we saw each other. She said, ‘Miki go, Miki go,’ and after that I passed her, though I don’t remember exactly when. There were brick streets that had very bad footing and we didn’t have good shoes like today. Also there wasn’t carpet on the grates on some bridges so it was very painful to run on those bridges.
GCR:How was the reception of the crowds as you came into Central Park as the first woman compared to when you won in Boston?
MGFrom beginning to end there were huge crowds of spectators and I think that the spectators made me go faster. It was like my body was lifted up. It was wonderful as they were telling me how far the next lady was behind me.
GCR:The following year Kim Merritt was out in front for a long while and you didn’t pass her until after the 20-mile point before you won again. How was it coming from behind to win that year and could you even see her ahead of you with all of the men racing?
MGFor a long time I couldn’t see her. Then when I did I could see that she was getting closer and closer. Then in Central Park - there she was – so I started going faster.
GCR:Did you know that she was in the lead?
MGYes, because spectators were telling me.
GCR:Did you have a bit of a rivalry with Kim since she won with you in second two years earlier and then you turning the tables on her?
MGYes, we did. She was a young woman and I was an older lady. When I didn’t win it seemed more natural, but for her and other young women I could understand that they didn’t like getting beat by an old runner. So they were unfriendly after we finished the race. The girl I do remember also was the German runner, Christa Vahlensieck, giving me a bad look after I beat her. She didn’t speak English and we couldn’t talk because I didn’t speak German. Male runners were competitive during the race, but women weren’t too friendly even after the race, except for Doris Heritage-Brown.
GCR:You were second at Boston in 1976 and then came back to win again in 1977. What do you recall of that 1977 victory?
MGNo women ran with me – only men. Some men ran with me for a while, but then I pulled away from them before the end.
GCR:You also won the Tokyo Marathon a few years later. How did you end up racing in Japan?
MGI wasn’t in good shape and told Katherine Switzer that I wasn’t racing. I told her I couldn’t run any more as I was slow. She convinced me to run as she told me that participation was important. She said it was in Japan which was my home country and finally I told her that I would go. I didn’t like to run any race unless I was in good shape and had confidence. It was a horrible race as I wasn’t in shape. Then once I started I knew that I had to finish even though I wasn’t ready.
GCR:Back then, the target time for women was 2:40. What did you think when Grete Waitz raced a World Record 2:32:29 to win the 1978 New York City Marathon and repeated the following year with a stunning 2:27:32? Could you believe how fast she was running?
MGI couldn’t. She was a goddess. I couldn’t believe. Oh I looked at her and she was so fast. She was all by herself and so easily she ran. She was a wonderful, beautiful lady.
GCR:Along with Grete Waitz, other very fast women came along like Lorraine Moller and Joan Benoit. But looking back when you were running there was a group of women in the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s that are referred to as ‘Pioneers of Women’s Distance Running.’ How does it feel to be included in this group with runners such as Katherine Switzer, Nina Kuscsik, Doris Heritage-Brown, Jacqueline Hansen, Kim Merritt and Gayle Barron that set the stage for the next wave of faster women marathon runners?
MGOh yes. I am very thankful for that and that I was there doing something at the very best in my life.
GCR:We’ve talked about your marathon racing but you also raced other distances including in 1978 breaking the world record for the half-marathon with 1:15:58. What do you recall of that?
MGI didn’t even know that it was a record. Thank you for telling me. The marathon was always the king of the races. The half marathon was like a training race which is why I don’t remember so much from that day.
GCR:Are there any other races that stand out for good efforts or competition?
MGMy favorite race was the cross country 10k. It wasn’t so long and was fun. Many track runners don’t run marathons until they are older and not so fast. I did like the 10k the best. There was a women’s championship 10k at UCLA and I came in third or something and was very happy. I ran the mile indoors and realized how hard it was to run so fast. My legs were okay, but I didn’t know how to relax and my shoulders got stiff. I knew that was the wrong distance for me.
GCR:After the years where you had your strong finishes and wins in major marathons, you were in your mid-forties and your daughter was getting older. Did you find that it was time to transition from competitive running and to focus more on motherhood?
MGYes. I wish I had been able to continue more with running, but my daughter was very, very important to me. And my ex-husband was not a domestic person so he needed more time. But I don’t want to use that as an excuse as I was a little tired of running. I do wish I had run faster than my 2:39.
GCR:When you stopped competing did you keep training to stay in shape and just running for fun?
MGI always wanted to do my best so I didn’t go and run for fun.
GCR:It’s amazing to think that in ten years women made strides from running being unusual to there being a women’s marathon included in the 1984 Olympics. How exciting was it to see the 1984 Olympic marathon and Joan Benoit’s win?
MGI was very, very excited and wish I could have at least had a chance to run in the trials to select the runners, but I was way out of shape by then. I enjoyed watching and was a commentator for Japan for the marathon. It was very exciting as all three of the top women did a wonderful job.
GCR:As you mentioned earlier, Japan’s Keizo Yamada won the Boston Marathon in 1953. Another top Japanese runner, Toshiheko Seko, won at Boston in 1981 and 1987. There have also been many top Japanese women marathoners. Do you think that you going to Japan to race and being of Japanese heritage inspired some of these Japanese women?
MGI did appear there in the late 1970s and 1980s, but not since then, and the young runners don’t even know me. It’s been forty years.
GCR:Many people don’t realize that you are the answer to the question, ‘Who is the last American woman to win the ING New York City Marathon?’ Isn’t it hard to believe that it has been that way for such a long time?
MGIt is very hard to believe. But it is because the U.S. is very generous and gives out lots of money and the hungry runners from Africa need money to help benefit their people. If there wasn’t money involved I don’t think so many African runners would come here to race. Don’t you think so?
GCR:Well, I think it’s interesting that you mention that because when someone from African countries, like Kenya or Ethiopia, wins they use that money to help their families, to help their whole village and maybe to build schools and hospitals, so they are running for more than somebody from the United States.
MGFor them it is a much bigger thing than for U.S. runners.
GCR:I’d like to talk a little about your background when you were young. You are from Japan and grew up as a child there. Did girls get a lot of exercise in school when you were a child?
MGI was born in China in 1935 and we moved to Japan when I was nine years old. The war was getting very big. My father was an army colonel doctor. He was too scared to stay in China, so we moved to Japan by ship. It was a very hard time. When we were in Tokyo we evacuated to the countryside. I was about ten years old and Tokyo was being bombed. I saw fire in the middle of the night. There was no food and no fuel for cooking. We had a hard time. I was hungry every day. After the World War was over we came back to Tokyo. Farmers were treated very hard because guards who were at the school made the farmers kids eat last. After we went back to Tokyo it had been bombed everywhere. We had a hard time finding food to eat. We would have a little rice. After my father came back from the army I was a fifth grader. Tokyo wasn’t getting developed yet so we went to the countryside for my father to work…I did no running, no basketball, nothing.
GCR:When you were a teenager and about 15 or 16 years old had any sporting activities appeared in school for girls?
MGThey did have a volleyball team, but no running or track team. I never ran a step.
GCR:So you didn’t really get much exercise or run at all until you came to the United States and were running laps on that indoor track.
MGExactly. In China I was a tomboy and was running all of the time. There were lots of Japanese in China and we had a huge Japanese school. I would run every time with the school track team and was one of the top. In Japan I didn’t run anything at all.
GCR:Getting back to the time after you stopped racing and were concentrating on being a mom, how smooth was it adjusting to a more typical lifestyle instead of being a competitive runner and what did you do over the next ten or twenty years?
MGI wish I could have run more. My goal for the marathon was to break two hours and forty minutes. So when I ran under 2:40 with the 2:39 I was surprised how fast I reached my goal. So I wish my goal had been much higher like 2:35 or 2:36 as then I would have kept running more to reach the goal. After I reached my goal I had had enough and my daughter was getting bigger, but I wish I had kept running.
GCR:How are you doing now as I know you have had some health issues and are on chemotherapy? How is your health as you are having some struggles?
MGI was healthy up until 70 years old. When I was 70 I was retired and left Los Angeles to join my daughter in the state of Washington. My grand-daughter was born. Then I followed them here to Vancouver. I never did any running during this time. I separated from my husband when my daughter was seven years old. We had trouble in marriage starting about five years after we were married because we have total different personalities. He always wanted to talk about politics and the economy and I was interested in culture and music. I don’t know how we got married – I guess we both were lonely (laughing). Anyway after five years we didn’t have any good communication. He is a very fine person. All of my relatives like Mike. When I took him to Japan he treated me like a queen. Everybody liked him and I loved him. I still love him. Our legal separation lasted for thirty years, but my door was always open as he was the father of my daughter. So I welcomed him any time he would come. But last year he asked me if he could get a divorce and I said, ‘sure.’ I didn’t read it - I just signed it and gave it back to him. I didn’t get anything but that was okay. He was a very sad person then. I called him last month for the first time since we signed the divorce papers. I don’t want him to stay here as I have a small place of only 430 square feet. After finding out what they said about the cancer I was very, very depressed. I’ve never been depressed so much I wanted to die. I didn’t want to wake up the next morning. For two years I was like that. The doctor told me that my life expectancy was a year and a half. I was so happy thinking. ‘Oh good, I can die!’ I’m not like that anymore. I don’t want to jump off a high floor. When I wake up and it is dark and miserable I am still okay. I started reading the bible, am happy and trying to live a healthy life. I don’t cry anymore. I am still up and down but try to be happy. I think I am going to start jogging since now it is getting a little warm. I may have a hard time because of the medication.
GCR:Maybe you will be able to alternate a little bit of walking and a little bit of jogging and go back and forth?
MGYes. Yes. Wherever I go I don’t take a bus, but I haven’t walked too much lately I was walking for an hour a day two years ago or for an hour and a half. I think I am going to try doing that.
GCR:When you look back at your life, from growing up overseas, to coming to the U.S. without knowing the language, becoming a runner with its mental and physical dedication, and then any adversity you have overcome , what do you say when you give positive advice to help others in life?
MGMy life before I came here was miserable as I worked three jobs, had no vacation and a little bit of money. I miss Japan, but am very happy that I came to the United States as it was a wonderful opportunity. I appreciate how lucky that people are to be living in the United States. Anything is possible in the United States. I never thought I would start running and go to the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon and travel all over the place. I am glad that I had this opportunity and am very glad that I left Japan. I love the United States. In the U.S. anything is possible if you try hard enough.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI would like to learn piano, but it is too late. I love singing. I used to sing in a choir, but since I got cancer I lost my voice and I can’t sing right now. I like to spend time with my daughter and granddaughter and to play with kids
Favorite movies‘The Sound of Music’ is my favorite. I also love ‘Phantom of the Opera’
Favorite TV showsRight now I like to watch lots of mystery movies all of the time like Midsummer Murder and Colombo
Favorite musicI love music! I love classical music, especially Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. I like Beethoven’s Symphony #9 and like Mendelssohn because he has very happy music
Favorite current bookI’m reading a book about how to become happier written by Martin Shiner
First carMy first car was a used Ford Mustang
Current carI stopped driving five years ago. I never got a ticket for a moving violation, but I was a fast driver. I was a good driver, but not any more
First JobThere were girls standing around a big basket, all day long we washed bottles and we made one dollar
FamilyMy daughter is Danielle and I have three granddaughters
PetsI don’t have any and I would love to but it’s not easy to have a pet. I want a dog but I would have to take him out and it also takes so much money. It is so expensive with my medications that I can’t afford a dog
Favorite breakfastI like pancakes and waffles
Favorite mealChicken or sashimi
Favorite beveragesI like to drink beer and used to drink a bottle every night after my run. I enjoy a little bit of wine
First running memoryWhen I was a child I got a red ribbon for winning a race
Running heroesWhen I started running there was Jacki Hansen and Cheryl Bridges. I saw Cheryl run the Culver City Marathon. She was beautiful and had long legs. She was so beautiful and was my idol
Greatest running momentsThe first time I won in Boston and the first time I won in New York
Worst running momentThe Tokyo Marathon
Childhood dreamsTo play violin and piano as a concert player, but we had no money for music education
Funny memoriesWhen I started running I wanted to get a trophy. When I won the Culver City Marathon in 2:46 I was waiting and waiting as they went through trophies and gave them to the boys and men. There were dozens of trophies lined up from big to small and I was sure that one of them was mine. And then there was nothing left on the table. They didn’t expect any women and it was very disappointing. They said, ‘We are sorry,’ and later they sent me a nice plaque
Favorite places to travelEurope, especially France, Spain and Germany. My daughter was living in Germany and that is why I know it more than the other countries. I went to England but it wasn’t as good of an experience
Final Comments from InterviewerIt was a real joy and an honor to spend over an hour conversing with the only woman to twice win both the Boston and NYC Marathons. I am also thankful to Miki for her time as she has faced serious health issues with cancer over the past several years. She sometimes had trouble remembering things, but was happy to relate the stories of her life. How amazing that she didn’t start running until well into her twenties, but she was so successful at the marathon distance. Her warm heart and humor were in much abundance during our phone conversation