As we continue our Leadership Spotlight Series, we feature Marilyn Bevans, a trailblazer and legendary distance runner who is known for many achievements, most notably becoming the first African-American female runner to break the 3 hour mark in the marathon.
Bevans was born in Baltimore, MD in 1949. She was always intrigued by track meets on tv growing up, but faced the significant challenge of going to school before Title IX, when there were no women’s track teams offered at her high school or college. Beyond that, Black athletes were generally sprinters or specialized in short distances. Bevans would shatter the mold for both female and Black runners in the 1960s and 70s.
She would run on her own, and eventually befriended the Baltimore Road Runners club as she trained for the 1973 Maryland Marathon. She would say in an interview that she was the only Black and only female runner in the group and many of the races she participated in. While she stated that she appreciated the protection and camaraderie that the club provided, one can only imagine the isolation she endured and mental fortitude it must have taken for her to continue training, especially for the very first marathon of her career. And even though she did not grow up in a segregated state, that did not mean she was widely accepted, and certainly not appreciated. “When some runners ran, there were cheers. When I ran, you heard crickets. I was called the N-word sometimes," she said.
In her very first marathon, Bevans finished second. It was a remarkable achievement for anyone, but just the start for her. It would all build up to her becoming the first African-American female runner to run a sub-3 hour marathon in 1977. Here are some of her most notable career accomplishments:
Won 3 marathons, including 2 of her hometown Maryland Marathon.
Placed second in 5 marathons, including the 1977 Boston Marathon.
Set the course record of 2:51:19 at the 1977 Maryland Marathon.
Ran a career best 2:49:56 at the 1979 Boston Marathon.
Named a top 10 women’s marathoner in the world in 1977 by Track and Field News.
In 1980, won the Catoctin Mountain 10K, notable as President Jimmy Carter participated, becoming the first President to compete in an American road race.
Beyond her racing career, Bevans founded the Baltimore Suns Track Club, a running group for boys and girls in the 1970s and 80s. She coached high school cross country and track in Maryland for over 30 years, and was named All-Metro Coach of the Year twice. In 2013, Bevans was inducted into the National Black Marathoners Association's Distance Runner Hall of Fame, and in 2014, Runner's World magazine named her one of their Heroes of Running.
We celebrate Marilyn Bevans as a trailblazing figure for the Black racing community as well as for female racers overall. She is an icon in the industry and has touched countless lives of young runners in the Maryland area.