PROFILE--Joanna Harper has been running for 48 years, two-thirds as a male, one-third as a female

USATF Club XC, 2015. Photo by Michael Scott.
[Editor's note: Joanna Harper is one of the world's most influential, little-known runners. Below, the 62-year-old explains why in her own words. In a nutshell: She was a former low 2:20s male marathoner, who transitioned to female in 2004/5, and has continued training and racing hard as a woman. She has also studied what she has lived. This has led to her becoming an Olympic consultant on transgender issues, an expert witness at the Caster Semenya case, and more.]

(August 2019) My name is Joanna Harper and I have run at least one race every calendar year since 1971, making 48 consecutive years of racing. I currently (August 2019) live in Portland Oregon, and I work as a medical physicist in one of the larger hospitals here in town. I will be moving to England in September to go back to school to get a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. From 1971 through 2004 I competed in the men’s category. Since 2005 I have competed in the women’s category. I started hormone therapy in August 2004 and within nine months I was running 12% slower. Once I started racing in the women’s category I found that my age graded performances lined very well with my previous performances in the men’s category (approximately 80% in either case). I found other transgender runners and they had undergone similar experiences. In 2015 I published the first peer-reviewed paper on transgender athletic performance and soon I will have the opportunity to study transgender athletes in a full time capacity as part of my PhD. program. I am the author of the forthcoming book Sporting Gender: the History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes. Look for the book at Christmas time 2019.

What are your proudest achievements? If we are speaking of running achievements, then I am most proud of the 2:23 marathon I ran as a young man, and of the fact that I have won team and individual USATF age group national championships as an old lady. If we are talking about non-running achievements, I am proud of the fact that I have become one of the most influential world-wide voices in the ongoing debate over transgender and intersex athletes.

Guesstimate of lifetime miles? Roughly 120,000 miles or 200,000 kilometers.

When did you start running why? I went out for the cross country team as a high school freshman in September 1971.

How much did you run per week in your peak years? There were a few years in my mid-20s when I hit more than 5000 miles per year. I would consistently run 100-120 miles per week with only a few down weeks per year. I now average 50-60 miles per week.

What were some of your better/most memorable races? I ran my personal best, 2:23:55, in the Philadelphia Marathon in 1982. I won the (non-defunct) Hamilton Marathon in 1981. I placed 15th in the Canadian University Cross Country championships in 1980. In 2007 I was the 50-54 age group champion at the USATF club cross country championships, and in 2017 and 2018 I was a member of the 60-64 team champion Team Red Lizard at the USATF club XC meet.

How did you train differently in your younger years? I ran more, harder, faster and took fewer recovery days.

Has your diet changed through the years? When I was young and running high mileage I could pretty much eat and drink as I pleased. I have to be much more careful of caloric intake now. I also can’t drink nearly as much alcohol as I could then. There is not much fun in getting older.

Cross Training? I currently do 30 minutes on the rowing machine twice per week and lift free weights and do a core workout once or twice per week.

How important is social running to you? I enjoy the social aspects of running, but it gets harder as I get older and slower since most of the young runners are now too fast for me. It is very hard to run so slowly, but it is better than giving up.

Obstacles along the way? I once ruptured my Achilles tendon when I was out on a trail run in New Zealand. They had use a helicopter to get me off the mountain. That was my most memorable injury, but there have been plenty of others.

Favorite quote? I like the old Woody Allen standby, where he said that 80 percent of success comes from just showing up. I think that applies to many aspects of life, including running. If you want to be a runner, then run.

Has running helped you with the aging process?
Probably, but it also isn’t any fun to get slower and slower every year.
Last December's Club XC in balmy Spokane 

What three tips would you give a younger runner who wants to be a lifetime runner?
1--I think it is important to keep running in perspective, but keep at it too.
2--If you want to be a lifetime runner, then you will need to deal with all the big and little indignities that hit athletes as they grow older.
3--Learn to accept that you are slower this year than you were last year, and that you will be slower still next year.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from running? Like many other things, one gets out of running what one puts into it.

[Harper has made many media appearances in recent years to explain transgender issues in sports, and also the Caster Semenya case. You can find her easily on Here's just one such interview.