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First Woman to Run Marathon Recalls Memories from 1959 at 2012 Pikes Peak Ascent

By Travis Duncan

Arlene Pieper became the first woman to ever run a marathon in the U.S. when she ran the Pikes Peak Marathon in 1959. Pieper, 82, was at the starting line to see the field of runners off for the 2012 Pikes Peak Ascent.

“[In 1959] the race was a lot different,” she said. “There were only 19 people in the race and there were no water stations. They even ran a Palomino horse in it that year. I remember he was sweating so badly.”

Pieper said, at the time, it was highly unusual for a woman to run in a race, but her husband was very supportive.

“I got to where I eventually could run 10 miles around the football field at Colorado College,” she said. “Then on Sundays, my husband and I would run to Barr Camp. I did some training on the Incline, too.”

Pieper’s daughter Kathie was in attendance with her for Saturday’s race and remembers her parents training.

“Mom and Dad would take me to No Name Creek with my siblings,” Kathie said. “My parents would train and then come back and pick us up.”

Kathie, 62, made some history herself, running up Barr Trail with her mother during the 1959 Pikes Peak Marathon, effectively running her own Ascent (before the event existed) when she was only 9 years old.

Arlene said her late husband, Wallen, was her inspiration, and helped her finish the Marathon, despite the cultural biases against women at the time.

“At that time, women were supposed to stay home and bake cookies and have babies,” she said. “I would always tell other women, you can be a wonderful wife and mother, but you don’t have to stay home and bake cookies. If there’s something you want to do in life, go out and do it.”

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