It was a childhood experience from more than 50 years ago, but Sharlet Gilbert clearly remembers sprinting along the sidewalks of Richmond to a dental appointment after she and her mom were forsaken by the city bus.
“It was consciously a decision early in life,” Gilbert said. “I decided right then that running felt right, [it was] what I wanted to do and continue doing for as long as I could.”
Competitive running venues were limited for girls and women in the 1950s and ’60s. At UC Berkeley, Gilbert, now 60, played for the women’s softball and basketball teams as track and field was exclusively for the men.
“I really encourage women to take advantage of their opportunities now,” said Gilbert, who on her 50th birthday ran her first intercollegiate race.
Nearly three decades after graduating from Cal, Gilbert enrolled at Contra Costa College, took a full load of classes and joined the school’s track team. Her second year of eligibility, competing against 18- and 19-year-old runners, Gilbert qualified for the junior college state meet, capturing seventh place in the 5,000 meters and eighth in the state in the 10,000 meters.
Gilbert has also completed 53 marathons, her fastest time of 2 hours, 38 minutes coming in the 1992 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. She was the second woman to cross the finish line in the 1987 San Francisco Marathon with a time of 2:39. A few years later, she returned to the race as women’s masters champion.
With her entry into the 60-69 age division, last year was a very successful one for Gilbert.
“I’ve been chasing an age group championship for years in the Bay to Breakers,” Gilbert said of her 1:01:16 time in the iconic San Francisco race. “It was a lifelong dream, and at the age of 60 finally it came true.”
In the 2011 Bay Area Senior Games, held at Stanford, Gilbert was the 5-kilometer women’s champion with a time of 23:14. Last summer at the World Masters Championships, Gilbert won the silver medal in the 400 meters; the next morning, she completed the marathon in 3:43:08, just 9 seconds slower than in her first 26.2-miler in 1980.
On Monday, Gilbert will be running in the Presidents Day 5K/10K at Coyote Point in San Mateo, a scenic, Bayside race organized by her friend, “Big Al” Kirkman.
Despite her focus on shorter distance track and field events, Gilbert is considering a return to the San Francisco Marathon this year. When contemplating her longer-term future in running, Gilbert defers to a higher power.
“Whatever God opens up for us, and for as long as the Lord allows, I will run and compete,” Gilbert said.
WHAT: Flat, scenic run along the Bay
WHEN: Monday, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Coyote Point County Park, San Mateo
INFO: (510) 223-5778
NOTE: 9 and under, 70 and over are free