Brave Marathoner With Brain Cancer, Known for Running in a Tutu, Dies

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  • Katie Couric
    Katie Couric
    American television and online journalist, presenter, producer, and author
Monika Allen (right), running with her friend Tara Baize in 2013, has died of brain cancer. (Photo: Glamrunner.com)
Monika Allen (right), running with her friend Tara Baize in 2013, has died of brain cancer. (Photo: Glamrunner.com)

Monika Allen, a girls-empowerment advocate and long-distance runner of great courage, who ran a marathon while receiving chemo treatment for brain cancer, has died of the disease. She was 38 years old and leaves behind a husband, David, and an infant daughter.

“I’ll never be in remission, so I’m just living day to day,” Allen told Katie Couric about her inoperable brain tumor in 2014, on what was then the Yahoo anchor’s daytime talk show, Katie.

Allen, of San Diego, Calif., had been invited to the show to discuss a controversy with Self magazine, which had recently folded its print edition. The magazine had published a photo of Allen and her friend Tara Baize crossing the 2013 L.A. Marathon finish line wearing tutus — an image that captured an incredible moment for Allen. A marathoner who had been diagnosed with brain cancer in September 2012, she had just finished running the L.A. marathon, her first since the diagnosis, while undergoing chemotherapy treatment. “It was a hard race for me,” Allen told Couric.

Allen and Baize ran in tutus they had made as a symbol of hope and power — part of the project they started, Glam Runner, to raise money for the San Diego chapter of Girls on the Run, a national after-school running and empowerment program for girls. (The chapter has just set up the Monika Carlson Allen Courage Scholarship in her honor.)

But the Self editors didn’t know the backstory, unfortunately. In a now-defunct column called “BS Meter,” they snidely used the image as an example of what the editors called “a racing tutu epidemic” that they attributed to the fact that “people think these froufrou skirts make you run faster.”

When asked for the photo by Self, Allen had assumed it was going to be used “for something positive.” Instead, she wound up feeling “shocked and insulted,” she told Couric, who noted, “I think this whole snarky judgmental thing. … I think people should stand up and say, ‘Enough of that.’”

After the photo was published, Allen posted about it on Facebook, and from there, it spread like wildfire, upsetting her family, friends, and many Girls on the Run fans.

Lucy Danziger, the editor of Self at the time, was quick to issue an apology, discontinue the BS Meter page, and donate to Girls on the Run.

In addition, Baize told Runners World, in a story about Allen’s death, “People contacted us from all over the world, ordering tutus and telling Monika what an inspiration she was. Many cancer survivors were motivated to get out there and do their first race. We still get so many messages from people who never actually met her, saying that she was such a big influence on them.”

Allen told Couric she was relieved that something positive had come out of the whole debacle. “Women should be here to empower each other,” she said. “Men or women should be empowering each other, lifting each other up.”

The runner and activist did just that, leaving behind a legacy of love after carrying on with strength, by continuing to run races in the face of certain death. “It was her way of living life,” Baize said. “It made her feel alive.”

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