Gloria Smith McLeod-Timpson-Class of 1944-Marathon Runner

Submitted by Ralph Corry

LUFKIN, Texas--The sport of marathon running dates back to ancient times, but until the 1970’s the 26.2-mile run was considered too grueling for women. Over the 40 years since then, thousands of women have proved that the weaker sex can indeed go the distance. One of them is Gloria McLeod.

These days, the 86-year-old McLeod considers her track to be the 55-acre campus at PineCrest Retirement Community. Each day she walks the campus trail that leads from her independent living cottage to the main building and then takes the pathway that passes by the butterfly garden through cool, wooded area.  “I feel like my past marathon running is why I’m in as good a shape as I’m in,” she says.

 Even though she hung up her marathon running shoes more than 15 years ago, she quit with an impressive record—13 marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 1976. She finished the Houston Marathon in January 1976 in 3:50, the Dallas Marathon in February 1976 at 3:53, the Galveston Marathon in March 1977 at 4:14 and the Houston Marathon again in January 1979 at 3:53.  She also recounts running “every 5K and 10K available during the years from 1976 to 1979 and for several years beyond.

 Ironically, it was a heart condition—her husband’s—that lead to McLeod taking up the sport of running. The couple started walking after his heart condition was diagnosed in 1976 while living in Houston.

   Morning walks in the city’s Memorial Park led to chance meetings with people who were running. Pretty soon, they were running too.

    “We took vacations around marathons,” said McLeod. She laughs as she remembers their experience at the Boston Marathon.

   “My husband got ahead of me, but as I was passing by a restaurant he came out and told me he had a stomach upset and felt he couldn’t finish this one. I didn’t want to leave him, so we both boarded a bus. Three days later, we went back to where we had stopped and ran to the finish line. We had T-shirts made that read, ‘3 Days: 3 Hours.’”

Training for the races meant running at least six miles every day. Much of their social life also revolved around the sport, as they would meet up with fellow runners to run the three-mile circle around Memorial Park, “as many times as needed,” according to McLeod.

 Back in the 1970s, McLeod was one of a scant minority of women trying to break into the sport. The first woman to run the Boston Marathon was Roberta Gibb, who hid in the bushes in 1966 near the start of the race. She finished unofficially in 3 hr. 21 min. 40 sec. The next year, Kathrine Switzer registered as K.V. Switzer, and even though one official tried to remove her from the race, she persisted and finished. In 1974, she won the New York City Marathon. In 1980, women comprised 10.5 percent of marathon runners. Today, the figure is 41 percent, thanks in part, to women like Gloria McLeod leading the way. 

 

 McLeod was one of the leaders of the early running boon for females in the Houston area in the 1970s.  In addition she was one of the youngest graduates of Timpson High School.  She was born in 1928 to parents Robert and Tura Smith in Shelby County, Texas.    Gloria had two brothers in the family to compete with as a youngest, Harold and Bobby Smith. 

She attended the Enterprise school which was few miles from Timpson during her early years of education.  Since she lived about a mile from the Enterprise school, she either walked or Gladys Wallace, a teacher at the school, would pick her up each morning.  Later Gloria later attended Timpson High School.  In 1944 she became one of the youngest graduates of Timpson High.  She was only fifteen when she graduated!  The only person that is known that was younger than her to graduate from Timpson was Mark Shepherd at the age of fourteen in 1937.

After graduation in 1944, Gloria moved to Galveston to live with her Aunt and Uncle who were in the military.  Of course she went to work full time at the age of 15 at the place he worked.  She was supposed to be 18 but her Uncle pulled some strings so to speak.  It was here that Gloria met her future husband, Herman Smith.  The couple moved to Colorado, but Gloria came back to Timpson to have her son, Michael Smith. Then she went back to Colorado after Michael was born. This was common practice back in those times. 

In the mid-1960s Gloria married Harry McLeod.  It was due to Harry’s heart condition that the couple took up running.  Always avid walkers at Memorial Park in Houston, the couple met people running and took up running.  Fairly soon, Gloria and Harry were running marathons.  What people have to realize, this was back in the early to mid-70s and women were not supposed to be running much less running marathons!!!  The first woman to run in the Boston Marathon, Roberta Gibb, was in 1966 and she had to sneak on the course to do run the race. Back in those times people thought that for a woman to run 26.2 miles was too much for them to endure.  The Houston Marathon was first run in 1972 with 115 runners finishing.  In 1976, the first woman in this race had a time of 3:37….Gloria finished in a time of 3:50 just 13 minutes behind the women’s winner in this year.  Quite an accomplishment!

Gloria in her running career finished 15 marathons including Boston and countless shorter races.  She was a pioneer truly in  early women’s running even though she never ran an official race in high school at Timpson. Nowadays at the age of 86 she walks the trails of the Pine Crest Retirement Community in Lufkin where she lives.  Happy Trails to Gloria as she keeps going.