Diane Fournier 1991

Diane Fournier

“The Friends I Have Made Through Running – They Are Still There”

Diane Fournier of Topsham was the first woman in Maine to run regularly in road races and is known in running circles as Maine’s pioneer of women’s long distance running. She started her competitive road racing with the 1970 Boston Marathon and she ran her first Maine road race early that summer. Fournier, a teacher and coach at Mt. Ararat, also distinguished herself by becoming one of the most successful high school track and cross country coaches in the state.

Raised in Rumford, born Nov. 22, 1946, Fournier’s father had been a speed skater in his younger days. But Diane said that she was not pushed into participating in sports. Just the same, she became an avid skier in both cross country and alpine, competing in college in alpine at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. Fournier pursued a career in teaching physical education and was one of the original faculty at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham.

Prior to her Boston Marathon debut in 1970, Fournier, who was 5-2 and 118 pounds, had been training as a cross country skier, biking, and running five to 10 miles a day. “At the beginning I ran to get into condition for cross country skiing and I’d have to say that Mike Gallagher was my first influence,” said Fournier in 1994. Gallagher had been an Olympic skier. She also credits Portlander Dick Goodie for encouraging her to take distance running seriously. And finally, the man who made her feel at home in this all male sport was Roland Dyer, a runner from Winslow who was organizing scores of road races in central and southern Maine in those days.

Fournier’s first Maine road race was one which Dyer organized in Winslow in the summer of 1970. Dyer, she said, “made sure that I had a place to change and shower and that I had a trophy that had a female figure.”

Dyer and Goodie “made me feel accepted,” Fournier said. But there were a few other women running in the summer of 1970. The results in Roland Dyer’s road racing newsletter, the Pine Tree Road Runner, indicate that Fournier won a women’s mile run in Gardiner on May 10th, beating the only other female competitor, Nancy Gillespie. Fournier was timed in 6:11, and Gillespie in 6:58. In early August in a 1.5 mile race for women in Winthrop, Fournier topped a field of four women with a time of 9:31. Christine Cos was second in 10:54, Patty Rosen was third in 12:05, and Janice Roberts took fourth in 13:00.

About a year after Fournier started running in road races, another woman, Robin Emery of Lamoine, got hooked on the sport and gave Fournier some much appreciated company and competition. Emery said that Fournier “was cool and calm before races, and I learned from her.” Emery was also a teacher. “I remember running a 16-miler in Brunswick with Diane. We went stride for stride for 11 miles. I would probably have gone out too fast and died, but matching her pace made the race enjoyable.”

Among her career highlights was her first race, the Boston Marathon in 1970, run before women were allowed to enter officially. Also among her greatest moments was in 1982 when she ran her best marathon, 2:58:19 at Casco Bay, and then there was a 50-mile race in Brunswick in 1981 when she clocked 7:23:39. Over the years Fournier belonged to the Liberty Athletic Club, the Ararat Super Striders, and the Central Maine Striders.

As a high school coach at Mt. Ararat, Fournier’s women’s outdoor track teams won class A state championships in 1975 and 1992. Her indoor track team won state titles in 1993 and 1994, and her women’s cross country team of 1992 also won the state championship. Her teams also won many KVAC titles in boys and girls cross country and in girls outdoor track. She has also won at least two Central Maine Indoor League Championships in girls track.

Fournier’s best times were: Mile: 5:29.9 (1981); 2-mile: 11:52.7 (1982); 3-mile: 17:52 (1981); 5K: 18:22; 4 miles: 24:16 (1982); 5-miles: 31:06 (1982); 10K: 38:14 (1982); 10-miles: 66:24 (1983); 15K: 1:09:14 (1981); 13.1 miles: 1:26:22 (1982); 15-miles: 1:40:44 (1982); marathon: 2:58:19 (1982); 50-miles: 7:23:38 (1981).

In 1982, Fournier wrote down some of her reflections in a paper she called, “The Evolution of Women’s Running in Maine.” Following are some excerpts from that paper where she describes the development of women’s running since 1970.

“I only go back as far as 1970 because that is when I became involved with running. I have no knowledge of whether there were women running before 1970, though I feel safe in saying there must have been some… I first began running for a specific reason, didn’t we all! I had taken up competitive cross country skiing and to get into condition the coaches said I had to run. I would have to blame Mike Gallagher, an excellent runner himself and now the head of the U.S. Nordic Ski Program, for my first introduction to running on the roads in a competitive situation. Mike and I were attending graduate school at Springfield College and we were training together for skiing. He talked me into running a race in the spring and we happened to select the Boston Marathon for my first race.

“I knew that goes against every principal of running today, but I lacked experience on how to select a starter race! To make it brief, I ran Boston on three weeks of distance running, 10 miles each and every day to prepare for the race. Also, I ran illegally, Boston didn’t open up to women until 1971. I did survive a very cold and rainy day to want to run more road races. After Boston my running took on a new meaning. It became more than a way to train for skiing.

“There were two very special people who did more for starting women’s running in Maine than any other one person or group. It is because of these two gentlemen, I feel, that running in Maine is where it has progressed to its present level today. Had it not been for Roland Dyer and Dick Goodie, I am not sure I would have become as involved as I have with running. They were both motivating factors for my involvement in running and the continued interest I have in the activity today.

“During the summer of 1970 I began running seriously. I defined seriously at that time as running every day, use some pretty crazy training methods, and doing some road racing. I had received a letter from Roland Dyer asking me if I would be interested in running in a 9 mile race in Winslow. He had heard of me finishing Boston and he was interested in getting women to run in our state. I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into by going to the race.

“That day I met Roland and Dick for the first time and I became hooked on running and a lot of that had to do with their enthusiasm, encouragement and helpful hints. Both Dick and Roland paved the way to make my start in running easy… “In my 12 years of running I have seen many subtle changes in the women’s “running boom” of Maine. The first change came my second year of running where I found another half crazy person who enjoyed running on the roads, running long and running fast (Robin Emery). Unlike myself, she had started running while in college and she seemed to run for the simple fun of running, no other motivating factor. Since our first meeting we have enjoyed many races together as friends and competitors and have both observed the growth of women’s running.” Those first few years of running I never saw another woman running on the roads, (I did, however, know a woman who ran in her basement!). Running in my hometown of Rumford, I received many stares at first, and like many other women who have faced the same problem, it bothered me. It is strange, though, it didn’t take long to get over the feeling. I do not know if it is because they became accustomed to me running or that I just did not care if they were staring after a while. However, the hardest part for me to adjust to were the comments, which we all heard from passing cars or those who sat in their safe yards, making remarks. They reminded me of the dogs who would bark at you as you ran by their territory, they were always very brave until you turned and faced them.

“Another change, of course, has to be the equipment, particularly shirts, shorts and sweats. I would mention the changes in shoes, however, this particular item of running gear deserves an article of its own. Therefore, I will only say that there have been drastic changes in the type of shoe that is used by most of us today and that all runners have profited by them. I can remember my first Boston run, my shorts were those cotton gym shorts which felt like cardboard and gave me a classic case of diaper rash. (I learned the value of vasoline that day!). And my shirt, the old white T-shirt borrowed from Dad. I didn’t even have a T-shirt which had a running logo! There were no singlets and nylon shorts for women at this time. Any running attire a woman had was made for men.

“There were no sport bras that many companies have out on the market these days. And sweats, who in their right mind these days would warm up for Boston in the “old grays”? … Women have done a lot of good things for running and I think one of them has been to add color to the roads!

“Numbers? I remember that first 9 mile road race, there were 23 of us. When we had 50 to 60 runners in a race you could hear, “wow, there are a lot of people in this race”. The first five or six years of road racing were spent running in small groups where everyone knew everyone else. I am reminded of my first race after taking a year or so off from racing when I went to Portland to run one of its more popular races. I took one look at the registration line and decided not to run. There were 350 plus runners that day and I was surprised and glad to see a lot of them were women. I think that was the first time I realized just how many women were running in this state.”

But even when Fournier stopped competing, it was not the end of running for her. At age 47 in 1994, she said, “although I have more or less stopped road racing and track racing I still run six days a week anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. I’m still driven to run fast, run my best, but I now do it for myself, not to be in shape for anything except for health itself. I run with my dogs each day for them and their health. They have a lot of fun and they share that element of the sport with me.

“There are so many things I’ve gotten out of running but probably the most is what it has done for me as an individual. I was a very introverted person once. I was an only child and very well protected growing up, and I’ve always done individual type sports. It’s certainly given me a lot of recognition among my peers, but the friends I’ve made through running – they are still there.”

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