The world’s first all-women race, 50 years later

Julianne Grace began running in 1971 after her husband encouraged her to try. They started with a half kilometer run. she hated it.

“I went to Catholic school with no athletics, other than gym class, which wasn’t much,” said Grace, now 84.

Gradually adding more miles, Grace competed in her first race in 1972, a two-mile run in Southport, Conn.

“I didn’t realize you were supposed to run through the tape, so I picked it up and ran under it,” she said. “I was so unsportsmanlike.”

By 1975, she had built up enough stamina to run a 10K and heard about the New York Mini, established in 1972 as the world’s first all-women’s road race, through her Connecticut running community. Sponsored by New York Road Runners, the race began with over 70 amateur runners through Central Park. In Grace’s first year, it had grown to 276 finishers.

“I remember starting so clearly like it was yesterday when I looked around at the other women and felt this amazing sense of empowerment and confidence,” Grace said. “For the first time in my life I felt like an athlete.”

Fifty years after it opened, Saturday’s race attracted more than 8,000 athletes, including nearly a dozen Olympians and five Paralympians, and men for the first time. Among the finishers were America’s Emily Sisson and Sara Hall, and Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir, fresh from the Boston Marathon in April. Two-time Olympian Senbere Teferi of Ethiopia won the Open Division in 30 minutes 43 seconds. The American Susannah Scaroni won the wheelchair class with 21:10.

Recognition…about Dede Beck

Grace stepped out in her 46th New York Mini alongside her daughter Dede Beck, 60, and Beck’s daughters Julianne, 27, Melissa, 22, and Allison, 21, on their wedding anniversary.

A lot has changed in women’s running since Grace ran her first half mile. She recalled an incident early in her running career where an empty beer can was thrown at her from a passing car. “We really felt like a spectacle,” she said. “It wasn’t typical to see women walking around in shorts. It really wasn’t.”

The New York Mini isn’t a mini marathon or any “mini” race – it’s named after the miniskirt that became popular around the time of the first competition.

That’s not what Grace wore with her first New York Mini: She wore men’s gym shorts and running shoes because women’s gym clothes weren’t readily available. She still has an unworn pair of Tiger Jayhawks – “what all men wore” and her favorite sneaker in the 1970s.

“The ’70s was a decade of awakening for women for me,” Grace said. “Women’s expectations of running and so many other sports have really evolved beautifully.”

Two more generations of women in her family have followed in her footsteps.

Grace, who went on to run three marathons, no longer considers herself a long-distance runner but still runs four to six miles up to five times a week. On Saturday, she walked her daughter in Dede Beck’s 42nd New York Mini.

“The Mini is such a special race with all these women,” said Beck.

Recognition…about Dede Beck

Beck ran in high school and college and was the captain of the Duke University cross-country team. A lifelong runner, she completed three marathons in under three hours and ran the New York Mini while pregnant with all four of her children, including one eight months old.

That all began to change in 2018 when Beck began developing runner’s dystonia, a rare neurological condition affecting the muscles of the legs. “I tripped over my right foot a lot – it got caught under my other leg,” she recalled. At first it only affected her downhill running, and then it began to affect her walking. “It felt like I was walking on black ice,” she said.

Beck drove her last New York Mini in 2019 and now participates in crutches. On Saturday, Grace and Beck’s daughter Allison were by her side to help her. The three women finished together by the 2 hour 9 minute mark.

This was Julianne’s 13th New York Mini, Melissa’s ninth and Allison’s eighth.

“There were a few years where I had to twist their arms” to get in, Beck said. “I told them, ‘This can count as my Mother’s Day gift, my birthday gift, and my Christmas gift.'”

Now they all come voluntarily, knowing that early June is race time. Beck’s disability gives her daughters even more reasons to return year after year.

“It’s one of those things where you just don’t realize how much grit a person can have,” said Julianne Beck. “She keeps pushing and she will do it again and I’m sure she will keep doing it no matter what.”

“It’s pretty special,” said Dede Beck. “God willing, my mother will continue like this until she’s 100 – me too and the girls.”

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