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While adapting to Tabori and his system, Hansen also discovered distance running. Real distance. As part of their training she and Judy Graham occasionally ran a six-mile loop, out to a nearby flood-control dam and back. The dam and the dry lake behind it were the home turf of a group of senior distance runners who regularly ran 12-and 14-mile workouts. Eventually Graham and Hansen were persuaded to go along. Judy did not cotton to the experience, but Jacki says, "I could tell it was right up my alley. I knew I wanted to do more."
About that time Hansen also happened to see Cheryl Bridges, a schoolteacher from San Luis Obispo, win the Culver City Marathon in the world-record time of two hours, 49 minutes, and her resolve was reinforced. "I wanted to jump into that race," she says.
When she announced her marathon intentions to Tabori, he had some doubts, but in the end it was the coach who gave in. "He said that there were things he wished he had done when he was younger and that this was obviously something inside me, and that I should go ahead and do it," Hansen recalls. "He also said, 'You're stubborn enough. You will probably go pretty far.' "
A marathon has been described as two races: the first 20 miles and the last six. In her first race, at Culver City the following year, Hansen says she clipped along at a seven-minute-a-mile pace for 20 miles in "an ecstatic mood." Then she hit the 20-mile wall. "I don't remember the last six miles," she says. "It was a devastating experience, the hardest thing I had ever done in my life." Still, she won, and her time—three hours, 15 minutes—qualified her for the Boston Marathon in April 1973, the first in which women were to be allowed to compete officially.
Tabori, seeing his own prediction about Hansen's potential come true, added long morning runs to her schedule and increased the length of her afternoon workouts. She was logging as much as 140 miles a week, but although she won the women's division at Boston in 3:05:0 and continued to compete at lesser distances through the rest of the year, she began to be plagued with injuries.
Part of her problem was her stride. She still ran like a half-miler, on her toes. "I got away with it for a long time," she says, "but, finally, it took its toll."
In the summer of 1974 she was fitted with inserts for her shoes that instantly corrected her stride. That September, in Waldneil, Germany, she ran the best marathon of her life and her first under three hours (2:56:24) and finished fifth overall. One week later, while she and a friend, Tom Sturak, a good Masters miler, were traveling in Italy, she ran her best 15 kilometers. "We saw a poster on the parlor wall of our boardinghouse in Florence," she says. "We didn't know whether it was a footrace or a bike race or a hike, but we copied it down and decided to enter." Sturak finished sixth, Hansen was seventh in 52:15 and, because she was the only woman in the race, the organizers gave her a bouquet of red carnations—and a flatiron.
From the European trip on, Hansen was in the big time. In December 1974 she again ran the Culver City Marathon, this time in a world-record 2:43:56. She had had difficulty hearing the times of her splits, so it was not until she was within one block of the finish, when she heard Tabori shouting "2:43!", that she first knew she was three minutes under the record then in dispute between Christa Vahlensieck of West Germany and Chantal Langlac� of France. It was Hansen's fourth marathon.
A few months later Vahlensieck took back the record with a 2:40:15 in D�lmen, West Germany, but Hansen was still improving. She passed up the Boston Marathon last year, largely because of the expense, but also because of the effect its frequent bad weather might have on her time. She pointed instead for Eugene, Ore. where, on Oct. 12, a cool, cloudy day, perfect for a marathon, she set another world record—2:38:19. She averaged 6:02 per mile, but this time when she passed the 20-mile mark, she actually picked up the pace to an average of 5:58 for the final six.
Currently the best female marathoners are running about 20% slower than the best men, compared to approximately 10% slower at 100 meters and 12% in the middle distances. But the gap is narrowing. From 1967 on, the women's record has dropped more than 37 minutes (since April 1973 Hansen has lowered her own time by 27 minutes). "The next barrier is 2:30, I guess, but there won't be any more big chunks," she says. "Two thirty-six would be under a six-minute pace. I'd like that."