Fresno woman holds 1st female marathoner title

FRESNO, Calif.

What may surprise many is that a Fresno woman holds the title of being the first female to ever complete a marathon in the United States.

Arlene Pieper is an athlete and she's got a medal to prove it. At 84 year old, she still remembers the race that made her the first woman to complete a marathon in the U.S.

"Back in the '50s, women were supposed to stay home, have babies and bake cookies. We weren't allowed to do much of anything," said Pieper.

In 1959, the mother of three went against social norms to run in one of the country's most grueling marathons -- Pikes Peak in Colorado.

"One day my husband says 'why don't you run the Pikes Peak Marathon and advertise our health studio?' So I said 'OK,' not knowing what I was in for," said Pieper.

She trained for months at a local track and in the mountains, often bringing the kids along.

"There's so much fancy equipment for runners: special shoes, special food to carry and all these kind of things. All we had was buying our tennis shoes at the dime store and getting a drink of water out of the stream, and that was it" said Pieper.

When race day finally came, Pieper, her daughter and another woman, were the only three females to take off for the peak. Among them, 19 men including her husband, Wallen.

"I'd go a while and I'd say 'can't I sit down and rest for a while' and he'd say 'no, no, no, it's not much further, it's not much further' and yeah right it was miles further," said Pieper.

Pieper and daughter Kathie, then 9, ran to the top of the ascent -- an elevation of 14,000 feet.

"So I made it to the top and waved to the crowd, turned around, and my daughter and the lady stayed at the top and so did Wallen, but then I ran down," said Pieper.

Pieper finished last in that race but first in history -- an incredible feat. Pieper didn't know she was the first woman marathoner until six years ago, when race organizers were celebrating the 50 year anniversary. Now, she goes back every year to be a part of the ceremonies.

By the way, women were not officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon until 1972.

For more on Pieper's story, visit

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