On June 3, 1972, 78 women entered the world’s first ladies-only road race. On June 9, 2007, I ran the race as my very first 10K, along with 3,521 other women. Only four years later, the race has reached capacity around 5,000 runners—all of them pavement-pounding women. Tomorrow is the 40th running of the NYRR New York Mini 10K. I’ll be there to sing the national anthem, run the race and celebrate how far women—myself included—have come in our sport.
The original Mini, named after the mini-skirt, was staged at a time when women were just starting to break gender barriers in running and sports at large. 1972 was a landmark year for women’s running. In April, the Boston Marathon welcomed female entrants officially for the first time; in June, the ground-breaking Title IX legislation mandating equal federal funding for women’s sports became law; in September, the Olympics featured the women’s 1500 meters as the longest race for women for the first time; and in October, six women entered the New York City Marathon.
Over the course of its 40 years, the Mini has played host to some of the greatest female runners in history including Paula Radcliffe and Grete Waitz. This year’s race will be dedicated to Waitz, a five-time champion of the Mini and nine-time champion of the New York City Marathon. She died April 19 after a long battle with cancer.
A star-studded field including 12 Olympians will be lining up at 8 a.m. on Central Park West in New York City to honor Waitz, including American marathon record-holder Deena Kastor, who is running her first race post-pregnancy, defending Mini champion and reigning world 10,000-meter champion Linet Masai of Kenya, reigning World Marathon Majors champion Liliya Shobukhova of Russia, reigning ING New York City Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya, and New Zealand record-holder Kim Smith.
Revisiting the Mini is great time to remember how far women have come in our sport. The race has helped encourage women to run in still-growing numbers. The percentage of marathoners who are women has grown over the last 30 years from 10 percent in 1980 to 41 percent in 2010, according to RunningUSA. And women dominate in the sport’s most popular distance, the half-marathon, accounting for 59 percent of race participants. For all road race distances combined, women have gone from just 23 percent of runners in 1989 to 53 percent in 2009. In fact, women account for much of recent running boom. While the total number of male road racers has risen by 1.8 million over the last 20 years, the total number of female road racers has grown by more than 4.5 million at the same time.
The Mini and Me
Celebrating 40 years of the Mini is also a great time for female runners everywhere to remember how far they’ve come too. The race is a personal benchmark for me. The Mini was the very first 10K I ever ran.
Back in 2007, I’d been dabbling in running for a little over a year. I came to the sport as a total newbie, not having run at all for a dozen years thanks to a slow-growing bone tumor that inconveniently attached itself to the top of my tibia. After a game-changing surgery, I had a new lease on life—and running.
Remembering how much I loved running as a kid, I started jogging a few blocks at a time, gasping for air after about three minutes. But I stuck with it and by June 2007 I was staring down my first 10K.
Back then, running a 10K was a big deal to me—a big, big deal. I remember the first time I finished an entire six-mile loop of Central Park. The exhilaration I felt was akin to what I imagine it must feel like to summit Mt. Everest or discover a new species. For someone who once couldn’t run three blocks, running six miles felt like a lofty goal. I remember getting home and calling my mother. I was literally like a little kid saying, “Look, Mommy! I did it!”
I finished my first Mini in 1:11:20 at an 11:30 pace. At 6.2 miles, it was the longest run I’d ever completed. Later that fall, I finished my first marathon.
Last year, I set my standing 10K personal best at the Mini: a much leaner 57:02. This year, I’m gunning for it. After taking three months off from running to strengthen my arthritic knee, I’ve been slowly rebuilding my base in the hope that one day I might, just might, PR again. Tomorrow is the first real test of my training comeback. This is it.
After I sing the national anthem, I’m going to line up in my corral in my running skirt—appropriately of mini length—and run for Grete, run for all those women who ran before me, and run for myself. The Mini is a race to celebrate how far women’s running has come, and how far we’ve come with it. It reminds me of the Barbie slogan from the ‘80s when I was a little girl: “We girls can do anything! Right, Barbie?” You bet we can.
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.