(12-Jun) -- It's ironic that out of the thousands of road races which have been cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the one that I will miss the most is one that I have never run --nor could ever run-- the NYRR New York Mini 10-K which would have been held for the 49th time tomorrow. Famously, "the Mini" was the first-ever road race in the world for women, founded in 1972 as the Crazylegs Mini Marathon by New York Road Runners, which opened the door for gender equality in distance running, a sport which had been a male bastion for decades. Exactly 216,988 women have finished the race, and the Mini helped create momentum for the women's marathon to be included in the Olympic Games for the first time in 1984.
PHOTO: The start of the 2019 NYRR New York Mini 10-K (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
It's noteworthy that the Mini had never before been cancelled. The event had survived all the ups and downs of New York City since 72 intrepid women finished the first edition of the race led by a California teenager named Jacki Dixon: the building, destruction, and rebuilding of the World Trade Center; the reign of terror of "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz; the financial crises of the 1970's and 2000's; the blackout of 1977; seven different mayors; seven New York Yankees World Series titles; and even the murder of John Lennon. The Mini endured.
In a speech commemorating the 50-year anniversary of New York Road Runners in 2008, then president and CEO Mary Wittenberg remarked: "Fifty years ago when New York Road Runners began on June 4th (1958)... women were nowhere in sight in the sport of distance running. It was considered heresy that women would go out and run hard, and run long."
But the Mini changed all of that. The race provided a grand platform for some of the greatest runners in history to compete against each other while being followed by thousands of ordinary women behind them who celebrated their personal running accomplishments. International winners included many of the sport's legendary athletes: Grete Waitz of Norway (five wins from 1979 to 1984), Tegla Loroupe of Kenya (five wins from 1993 to 2000), Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya and the Netherlands (four wins from 2003 through 2007), Mary Keitany of Kenya (three wins from 2015 through 2018), Ingrid Kristiansen (two wins in 1986 and 1988), Linet Masai of Kenya (two wins in 2010 and 2011), and Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain (2001). American winners included Francie Larrieu-Smith (1985), Judi St. Hilaire (1990), Anne Marie Letko (1994), Deena Kastor (2004), Molly Huddle (2014) and Sara Hall (2019). Hall was the first Mini winner to also be crowned national champion when the race hosted the USATF 10-K Championships for Women last year for the first time.
The Mini will always be close to my heart because it was the first race for which I worked as an elite athlete coordinator, a role I played on a consulting basis for NYRR for 19 years from April, 2001, to March, 2020. I was first hired to recruit and manage the elite field for the 2001 race (the 30th edition) by late race director Allan Steinfeld. In mid-April, he handed me a thin, manila folder which had the recruiting documents for the previous year's race, and told me to get to work. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing.
But luck was on my side. I managed first to recruit the 1996 Olympic 10,000m champion, Fernanda Ribeiro of Portugal, then wrangled a good supporting cast of international women: Restituta Joseph of Tanzania, Florence Barsosio of Kenya, Ludmila Petrova of Russia, Masako Chiba of Japan, Silvia Sommaggio of Italy, and Carol Montgomery of Canada among others. Not bad.
But several weeks later, Paula Radcliffe's husband and manager, Gary Lough, contacted NYRR and she was looking to run the race. After some back and forth (by fax!) she agreed to come. I looked forward to a great battle between Ribeiro and Radcliffe.
PHOTO: Paula Radcliffe on her way to winning the 2001 NYRR New York Mini 10-K (historic photo; photographer unknown)
But that's not what happened. Radcliffe stormed away from the field at the gun, and crushed the hilly one-loop course in 30:47, the second-fastest 10-K ever by a woman at the time. Ribeiro literally limped to the finish in seventh place after injuring her ankle (I had to scoop her up in my arms and carry her to the medical tent for treatment). After the race, we all went to the now-defunct Josie's restaurant on the Upper West Side for lunch. As Paula ate her salmon burger, I realized that I was now part of something truly special. The Mini wasn't just a race, but rather a turning point in sports history.
For the next 18 years I always gave the Mini by absolute best effort. NYRR saw the Mini as an integral part of its heritage, so through multiple title sponsors --and even no sponsor-- they invested in the race year after year, keeping it at a high level. Women loved to run the event (when I was recruiting athletes I would tell them it was the gift they should give to themselves). The NYRR staff always gave the athletes top treatment, and my wife, Jane, helped coordinate athlete hospitality. My chest would swell as I sat on the lead vehicle the second Saturday in June to watch the magnificent field of women getting ready to start on Central Park West at Columbus Circle. I don't think there is a more majestic start in road racing.
Although I can't run any more due to a pesky knee injury, I'll be walking 10-K on my own on Saturday to honor the more than a quarter million women who have entered the race, and the hundreds of thousands more who will run it in the years ahead after it returns. When the race comes back, I will be there to continue to tell the story of how one event changed everything for women who had but a simple request: let me run.
PHOTO: (left to right) Gary Lough, Jane Monti, Paula Radcliffe and David Monti after the 2001 NYRR New York Mini 10-K (photo by Mary Wittenberg)