November 07, 1977 12:00 PM

Tall, athletic-looking Mike Gorman and his tiny (5’½”, 89 lbs.) Japanese wife, Michiko, attract little attention as they run around the track at a Los Angeles school near their home each morning. What makes them an odd couple is that Miki—not Mike—is the world-class athlete. At 42, she is the second best female marathoner in the U.S. (Kim Merritt, 22, ranks first.)

Last week Miki topped the women’s field for the second year in the New York City marathon, covering the 26 miles, 385 yards in 2:43:10. In August she won the World Masters’ (over 40) marathon in Sweden and last April was the first woman across the line in the Boston marathon—416th in a field of 2,316 (she also won in 1974). “I give her all the encouragement I can,” says Mike, an L.A. stockbroker who sometimes bikes alongside Miki during races. “But she’s very determined and competitive.”

Miki started running in an offhand way. Mike bought her a membership to the L.A. Athletic Club, where he plays handball. Enrolling in a calisthenics class, she was offered a choice of a stationary bicycle or jogging to warm up. Soon she bagged a trophy for logging the most mileage around the small, indoor track in one month. For three years she churned away, winning club competitions until 1973 when she entered an AAU marathon in Culver City. Not only did she win, she broke the record with her 2:46:36.

“She picked up running better than English,” quips Mike, 39. Born in China to a Japanese doctor, Miki, two younger brothers and her mother returned to Japan when her father was drafted into the Chinese army. After the war she started college, but her father died and she had to work to help support the family. Miki held three jobs: she was a receptionist by day and played records in two coffee shops at night. “It was hard. I hated Japan,” she recalls, and at 19 she dreamed of coming to the U.S. because “the American men I saw in the movies looked so sweet, so beautiful, so romantic.”

In 1964, while learning shorthand at an American Army base, she babysat for a colonel’s child. When he was transferred back to the States a few months later, she went along with his family. “I was so lucky,” she says. “I was 28 and couldn’t speak a word of English.” In 1965 Miki took a job with a Japanese trading firm in downtown L.A. There, working as a secretary and living in a Salvation Army residence for women, she met Mike at a dance.

Married in 1966, they tried to have children. But not until after the Boston marathon in 1974 did Miki conceive. (“Physically and mentally,” she explains, “I was very relaxed then.”) Afraid of a miscarriage, she quit training for three months. Miserable (“My body felt all clogged”), she resumed running and continued until one week before Danielle, now 2, was born. “Nobody wanted to see me because they were afraid,” she recalls. “I was so big!”

Miki covers about 15 miles a day when training for a race. Because of her schedule, she and Mike have a limited social life—eating out usually means a local sushi bar. Her diet centers on broiled fish without sauce, rice and vegetables, vitamins, and tea with honey for quick energy. “After I run at night,” she says, “I drink beer. I love beer.”

Though Miki dreams of competing in a women’s Olympic marathon, it seems unlikely. “Each host country gets to submit one new event, but Russia won’t ask for a marathon because they don’t have a good female long-distance runner,” she reasons. Thus, she will continue in national marathons, running against mixed competition. “I wonder myself how long I’ll be competing,” she reflects. “I would like to go back and just run for fun and health. I know I’m going to keep at it forever—because it feels good.”

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