71 Years and Running

June 08, 2012 at 11:00am EST | by Barbara Huebner, NYRR News Service

If the NYRR New York Mini 10K is about celebrating generations of active women, it’s hard to imagine finding better examples than Julianne Grace; her daughter, Deirdre Beck; and her granddaughter, Julianne Beck, who combine for a total of 71 years running the race.

All three expect to be among the more than 5,000 women on the starting line at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, which will raise the tally to 74.

“It’s that rite of spring,” said Grace, 74, who has run the Mini almost every year since it grew from six miles to a 10K in 1975. The only year she missed was 2010, when she was out of town celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary.

“I thought, ‘oh darn, there goes my streak,’” said Grace, perhaps only half-jokingly, in a telephone interview earlier this week. “I had torn loyalties.”

When Deirdre, 50, crosses the finish line tomorrow, she will have run every year since 1980—33 consecutive years—and Deirdre’s daughter, Julianne, 17, will be running for the fifth time.

Grace’s collection of T-shirts from the event overflows her shelves, and the memories overlay their lives. What brings them from their homes in Connecticut every year, Grace said, is the history of the event and what it has represented to women in sports: a strong sense of solidarity and a “you can do it” spirit that she called “contagious.” The family has run the Mini in the heat, the rain, at the height of fitness, with injuries and, in the case of Beck, in the midst of four pregnancies. In 1994, she was eight months along with Julianne and finished in 50:07.

“I tell her that counted as her first,” said Beck.

In 1975, when Grace first ran the race, there were 246 finishers. Wearing her husband’s gym shorts and a cotton T-shirt, she finished in 56:30. She still has clippings from the race, including a Runner’s World magazine article written by Kathrine Switzer entitled “The Mini Marathon and How it Grew.”

“I had never seen so many women in a race,” Grace said. “That’s still the lure. That sense of being with other women in an athletic event gives you such a high. You look around at the start and it’s just wonderful. They call out the names of the premier runners at the beginning and it’s so inspirational: ‘Wow, I’m in a race with world-class runners.’”

Deirdre began doing the race when she was a senior in high school, before going on to become captain of the cross-country team at Duke University, and returned every year even when she was living for a time in Seattle. Her best time was 37:26, and she has several times finished in the top 50. More than once, the two women won the former mother-daughter category.

Grace now walks and jogs more than she runs, but has no plans to abandon the family tradition.

“Hey, as long as my legs move, why not?” she said. “I have a new streak to defend.”

Categories: Human Interest