With so many accomplished and talented women racing XTERRA, it can be hard to believe that less 40 years ago, women weren’t allowed to run a marathon in the Olympic Games. And yet, it’s important to remember that when Joanie Benoit emerged from that dark tunnel and into the light of the LA Coliseum waving her painters cap, it was partly due to the women who went before her, paving the way.
One of these women is XTERRA’s own Beverly Enslow. While you may know her now because of her ability to shred on the mountain bike, she was an extremely successful runner in the 1980’s. She competed in the Avon Marathons, Bonne Bell 10Ks, and L’eggs Mini-Marathons, which became popular in the 1980’s after Katherine Switzer began organizing the Avon races as a way to get the women’s marathon into the Olympic Games.
“After I graduated from college in 1980, I did the women’s road running circuit for five years,” says Enslow, who was sponsored by Nike, Kangaroos, and Reebok. “Those were awesome races. They gave women their wings.”
Enslow picks up a medal from one of the first international marathons for women, the 1981 Avon International Marathon in Ottawa. It is for 15th place overall. “Joannie Benoit was second in that race,” remembers Enslow. “Nancy Conz won.”
True to form, Enslow is quick to downplay her efforts.
“I wasn’t one of the greats. I didn’t compete in the ’84 Olympic Trials and I never made the podium in those big races,” she says, “But I was one of the women out there, getting good and getting faster. I was a pioneer in that regard.”
While Enslow didn’t compete in the ‘84 Olympic Marathon Trials, she ran under the qualifying standard, but outside of the qualifying window. Because of an injury, she wasn't able to repeat her qualifying time during the required timeframe and wasn't eligible to compete in the first Olympic Marathon Trials for women.
”That was the biggest disappointment of my running career,” said Enslow.
A self-described “running geek,” Enslow used to scoff at cyclists. “I used to think if you couldn’t run, you weren’t a real athlete.”
That changed with a devastating knee injury in 1985, which required surgery.
“I was 31,” says Enslow with a small laugh. “Almost half my life ago. The doctor told me I should never run another step again. Ha!”
Enslow swam and began cycling for her rehab. On a social ride, she met her husband, who worked for Trek. In the early 1990’s, he bought his wife her first mountain bike.
“My husband took me to Moab and we started out up a gravel road,” remembers Enslow. “I thought, ‘Cool, I’m a mountain biker.’ Then we hit the first drop-off into a creek line. It was only about a foot drop but I put the front wheel down and went over the handlebars. Every rock I came to, I either stopped or fell off. I was like that little guy on Laugh-In who falls off his tricycle all the time.”
The second day of the trip to Moab, Enslow had to decide between going over a cliff or crashing into a sandstone wall. She chose the wall and cracked three ribs. On the third day of the trip, rather than rest, Enslow got back on her bike.
“The thing is, there’s no obstacle that I can’t out-walk,” says Enslow. “There’s something in me that keeps saying, ‘Yeah, you can do this.’ And I think I liked doing things others couldn’t do. It made me proud.”
It’s no secret that Enslow’s dogged determination is a huge contributor in her success. An XTERRA Age-Group World Champ, Enslow has been an XTERRA Regional Champ 16 times since her first XTERRA in 2000, when it was held in South Maui.
“I still remember that first XTERRA,” she says. “I was totally unprepared for the difficulty of that mountain bike. I just remember standing at the side of my bike at the top of the climb, heaving my lungs out.”
She was fourth that year. In 2002, Enslow won the 45-49 division at XTERRA Worlds and was the 50-54 division champ for the next four years. In 2014, she was fourth in the 55-59 age group. Additionally, she has become an extremely skilled mountain biker and wins her age group in just about everything she enters. On May 7th of this year, she won the women’s master division (60-64) at the Marathon MTB National Championship in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
“Not many 60-year old women can ride mountain bikes as quick as I can,” admits Enslow. “So I always look at how I place overall. That’s equally important to me. I’m definitely not where I used to be, but I look at the women who beat me and think, damn, I gave them a 30 year head start.”
Mentoring is important to Enslow, but she teaches by example.
“The only thing I can do to mentor other people is to keep doing what I’ve always done. I’ve always liked doing something that other people couldn’t do. I can show that it can be done, so that others can do it too.”
Enslow is also extremely generous and willing to help anyone who needs a hand. Just ask XTERRA World Champ Melanie McQuaid. In 2011, when McQuaid was crowned as the first ITU Cross Triathlon World Champ in Extremadura, Spain, she won the race on Enslow’s bike.
“Mel’s bike didn’t arrive in time,” remembers Enslow. “The amateurs raced in the morning while the elites raced in the afternoon, so after my race, I cleaned off my bike and handed it off to her.”
Enslow is talking about retiring at some point. Maybe next year. In the meantime, she is still chasing the perfect race.
“I remember a 3000 meter race in college that I’ll chase the rest of my life,” she says. “I had this kick that propelled me from third place to first. It was just some college regional meet, but that’s what feeds me now. That perfect, elusive race.”
“I’m not real interested in the notoriety as much as I’m interested in the challenge of doing undiscovered things. And discovering new things about myself.”
Learn more about XTERRA Illinois Wilds.