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March 07, 2016

Celebrating International Women's Day with Doris Brown Heritage

Kristin Metcalf

Happy International Women's Day! Since 1995 President Clinton, Bush and Obama have designated March as "Women's History Month." Within the Nest we felt that it was only appropriate to talk to one of the most historical female distance runners in Washington State history: Doris Brown Heritage. Personally from the time that I started running in high school and then through the years that I coached high school distance runners, Doris has always been a running icon and role model for me.

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Growing up in Gig Harbor, Washington and attending Seattle Pacific University from 1960-1964, Doris was the first woman to run a sub-5 minute mile indoors. In fact at one point in her running career, she held every women's national and world record from 440 yards to the mile. She is a 5 x World cross-country champion, 2 x Olympian, the first woman elected to the IAAF XC and Road Racing committee, and I could go on and on about her accomplishments. While coaching cross-country one fall I remember passing Doris at Green Lake with a group of my athletes. I made our group stop and took a moment to point Doris out as she passed us: "Ladies that incredible woman that just passed us is known for many things, specifically she won the first three official women's races at the International XC Championship and if you were to start up a conversation with her she wouldn't brag about herself but what you would find within five minutes of talking to her that she is extremely passionate about this sport and is one of the most inspiring and positive women you'll know."

Doris has a long list of running accomplishments in her years of competitive running as well as a long list of accolades during her time as a coach. She coached at Seattle Pacific Univeristy for 35 years: 22 of which she was the Head Cross-Country coach. The amount of athletes, students, and co-workers that she positively affected is immense!

It gave me great pleasure to catch up with Doris this month and ask her a few questions. What shines through in her interview: She is an amazing woman with a ton of wisdom, insight, humility and grace.

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Tell us a little bit about what you have been up to the last couple years since you officially retired from coaching at Seattle Pacific University...
The past couple of years since we moved from West Seattle to Whidbey Island, coaching has changed to a volunteer activity and I'm more a supporter/spectator. I still very much enjoy contact with the SPU athletes and staff, and with our past athletes and friends who are coaching kids, college and clubs.

Whidbey Island is a perfect place to live for running, biking, hiking, etc. I wanted to spend my retirement running when I wanted, and to finally enjoy the beautiful beaches, trails, and Master's competitions. Maybe even see if Coupeville H.S. wanted to start a XC team. But, even for those of us who live by the "USE IT OR LOOSE IT" rule, we don't necessarily get what we desire and expect. Apparently my arthritic body doesn't know that "MIND OVER MATTER" is another rule of promise. I am able to jog a few miles a day and then I bike some days. I still have goals and give myself all the advice I use to give to others who love to run…set expectations, have patience, start where you are at, use variety, develop strength and flexibility, exercise faithfulness, start with little goals, and be thankful for what was and is still possible. Getting outside each morning as daylight breaks over the mountains and water is definitely a magnificent gift, even at slower shorter increments. God is good.

What do you think of about the state of women's running today?
The state of women's running today is certainly on the move. Most recently with XC racing at the national and international levels giving women the same distances and events as males, hopefully the next change will be equal size teams for women as men, and the return of the XC World Championships annually would be my desire. Now that the wise and capable Bill Roe is a part of the decision-making IAAF XC /Road Racing Committee, who knows what can come next? Athletes are gaining power to affect changes they desire as never before within the governing bodies of our sport and women are now equally represented and respected on many such committees. My hope is that everyone within our sport will remember why athletes run and that that love of running needs to give freedom and pleasure to its participants.

Opportunities with a variety club situations, coaching availability, technical devices and information availability, and seemingly too much of everything now out there, running is not the simple activity of the past. With the expanding financial remuneration incentives also come many regulations.

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Bike and Barge event in Holland, May 2015

Do you have a favorite woman runner or non-runner athlete that you enjoy following?
I don't have any one woman runner I enjoy following besides athletes from SPU, like Jessica Tebo, etc. and other local runners. Meb is still a favorite, as his life exemplifies such a meaningful running journey.

If you could give advice to a 20-year-old talented runner right now, what would you say to her?
Think about why you run and where you can find teammates and coaching assistance that will allow you to continue to reach beyond your immediate grasp, to go for your goals and share in the prospects of others.  

Looking back at your running career, what memory always sticks with you? 
One of my favorite memories was the first World Cross Country Championship in which women were included, in Wales in 1967. Running in that race (and winning it) was amazing! My coach Dr. Ken Foreman was there with me. There was no USA Team then so we had to get there on our own. We enjoyed the opportunity to participate with all the famous male runners of the world who treated us so well. By us going on our own that year we believed that this would make it possible for USA runners to have a team and some financial support in the future. In fact we did have a team the next year and we won...but still no financial support!

One of my favorite track races was an indoor mile in Vancouver, Canada, the previous winter. The mile was a new race for women and so I had no experience, but our training and appreciation of the opportunity brought a win with a good time and with teammates there, too. That race seemed to give me a lot of confidence.

It seems it's "the journey, not the destination" that is most memorable...the long runs in beautiful places with teammates, in wind and rain, even getting lost; warming down together with other competitors and friends after a well fought race; showing up and running at times that seem impossible and realizing missing out would have been giving away a treasure beyond description. Running has taken me places in the world and within myself that gave me a life and much to share. Seeing teammates and athletes I coach excel - even exceed their goals, are maybe the very best memories that I have.

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Best advice to the 40+ year old runners out there who are training hard toward their personal racing goals?
Some thoughts or advice to 40+ year old runners:  First of all ENJOY your running. Remember - You GET to run(not have to run). Grab the opportunities that come your way. You don't want to look back and wish you had...Be committed. You get out of it what you put into it. Showing up is 90%. Your racing will reflect your training and attitude. If you are 40+ you may well have other priorities. Be clear about what you can sensibly do time and effort wise and have no regrets if you have given your best and followed your plans with flexibility. If you choose to prioritize your running for a time, put yourself in a place that will allow your best efforts to materialize. Find a partner or group with whom you can share the fun and effort and to whom you can be accountable. Welcome challenges.

What is your favorite past-time now that racing and coaching is no longer your full-time hobby?
My favorite past-time now is jogging-walking, biking and hiking in the places where I would like to be running. I fortunately have physical therapist Boyd Bender who is always encouraging in my desire to do all I can physically. As I do a few slightly uphill 300's or "modified" bounding drills, I'm thinking about listening to my body and planning a little progression for the next time I'm out there. Maybe progressing toward "real" pushups or leg drives - not just huge amounts of easy band and cord repetitions.

Must-read book for runners?
So many good books! UNBROKEN, if you haven't read it, OR BOYS IN THE BOAT. DANDELION GROWING WILD by Kim Jones is perhaps my most favorite well written personal story. Anything by and about Meb Keflezighi. Books that inspire and enrich, that encourage.

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Comments

Carla White Freyvogel | March 9, 2016 at 3:27am

Doris and Charlotte

Hello everyone, Just to let you know, the photo on the bottom right is not Doris Heritage Brown, but another pioneering woman, Charlotte Lettis. Charlotte is an amazing person and athlete. She was one of the trailblazing female athletes in the 1970's. I was lucky enough to have her as a coach and friend in my early years. She lives and coaches in Portland Oregon now. We ran on the team "Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club".

Bob Langenbach | March 9, 2016 at 2:33pm

What a role model!

What a pleasure to have known Doris for over 45 years. She never ceases to amaze!

jodi andrews | May 2, 2016 at 1:09am

one of my personal heroes and incredible friend

i've known doris since i was 17 years old...she took time out of a busy holiday vacation to show my sister, mom, and i around seattle on our impromptu visit to decide which college i would attend, and because of her attention i did go to SPU. i was not one of her top athletes but she always encouraged me to do my best and we've been friends for 30 years. doris was doing parkour in our workouts before it was parkour as well as elements of crossfit. she has a love of the outdoors like almost no one else i know and fully embodies the joy one can feel being outside--not just running or hiking but gardening. i cannot say enough about this woman and how humble and inspiring she's been to me all my adult life. she and her husband ralph are still very active in monitoring the sport and travelling the globe to see friends they've made in the running world over the decades. truly seattle is blessed to have such a light in the world in the form of a physically diminutive but spiritual giant as doris brown heritage. she deserves every accolade and honor and i'm sure much more, as she's given so much so selflessly and tirelessly to folks of all ages. doris, you are one of the bright lights in this world.

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