A small bookcase sits against a wall in Libby James' Fort Collins, Colorado, dining room. The shelves are full of running memorabilia and championship hardware that the 77-year-old has collected over the years. Pieces of pottery from one of her favorite local road races are scattered about in various modes of practical use. In her kitchen, a medal from her epic run up 7,815 feet at Pikes Peak Ascent is embedded into her concrete counter thanks to a custom design.
Standing just over 5 feet tall, this freelance writer and children's book author is one of the most accomplished distance runners on the planet. On the master's circuit, where times are age-graded for the purpose of comparison, akin to a handicap in golf, James tops just about everyone. In age-graded scoring, 90 percent or higher is considered world class. James regularly clocks times at or better than 100 percent. In the most literal sense, she's in a league of her own.
The matriarch of a large and growing family, she is a mother to four children, now in their late 40s and early 50s, as well as a grandmother to 12. While running has become a family affair, James didn't even enter her first race until she was 40. At the time, none of them would have predicted that James' running career would make such an indelible mark on the family. Not to mention the record books.
Making of a champion
Born in Brentwood outside of London, England, in 1936, James came to the United States at the age of 4 with her American father and English mother when World War II broke out. After some back and forth between the two countries, the family settled in Seattle for a number of years and then moved to Philadelphia, where James finished high school.
She pursued a degree in English at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she met her husband, Dave. After graduation, they moved west to Colorado, where they had four children in five years, two boys and two girls. In addition to caring for the children, James found time to earn a master's degree in Western American literature, teach at a local community college and work as a journalist. While she says she wasn't athletic growing up, she often joined her husband to play tennis and ski.