50 years later: How a 10-year-old became 1st woman to win Bay Area's iconic Dipsea Race

Mary Etta Boitano Blanchard, 60, says she will run the race again this year, continuing to blaze a trail for the women runners.

Liz Kreutz Image
ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, May 18, 2023
1st girl to win Bay Area's iconic Dipsea Race turns 60
This year marks 50 years since Mary Etta Boitano Blanchard became the first woman to win Bay Area's iconic Dipsea Race at just 10 years old.

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Sitting on a park bench in Old Mill Park in Mill Valley, Mary Etta Boitano Blanchard opened up a bag of memorabilia and pulled out a small trophy.

"It's very modest. A very modest trophy," she said as she held it up.

It may be modest, but it represents a major feat.

In 1973, at just 10 years old, Blanchard became the first woman to win the Bay Area's iconic Dipsea Race -- the roughly seven mile trail race that goes from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach.

Photos from the time show a determined-looking Blanchard, wearing glasses and pigtails, sprinting to the finish line.

VIDEO: How a Bay Area 'hike' gave women chance to race decades before they could compete

The 'Dipsea Hike' allowed women to compete in the race that goes from Mt. Tam to Stinson Beach, which is the oldest trail in the U.S.

"I remember loving getting to that part where I saw all the people and I could see the finish line right at the end," Blanchard told ABC7 News.

"I think they were pretty surprised," she recalled. "I think they thought that I hadn't really won the race, that I had finished so high up and so quick that they really didn't think that I had run the whole entire race."

But, indeed, she had.

You could say Blanchard was born to run. Her parents each ran 50 marathons. Her brother won the Dipsea Race twice, once when he was nine years old.

Blanchard started out so young she had to get specially made Adidas that cost her family $300.

"There weren't any running shoes for kids in 1967," she said.

Blanchard said she began running marathons when she was five years old.

"So, for me, running the Dipsea wasn't that much of a challenge," Blanchard said. "I had trained on Twin Peaks and run plenty of hill training to prepare for it, so, yeah, I was ready for it."

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The Dipsea Race began in 1905 and for decades, women were not allowed to compete in it. Blanchard said even when she first began running in the race in the late 1960s, she had to put on a disguise and enter using her initials so people wouldn't know she was a girl.

"We weren't allowed to really run in the Dipsea, but we got away with it," Blanchard said.

Her Dipsea win turned Blanchard into a child running star. She went on to win Bay to Breakers three consecutive times in the 1974, 1975 and 1976. And was featured on the cover of Runner's World in 1974.

In many of the photos, Blanchard is wearing her trademark pigtails.

"It's probably not very attractive, but it's good for running," Blanchard laughed. "It keeps all the hair out of your face, so you can concentrate on going forward."

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Fifty years later, Blanchard, who is now 60, said she still runs six miles a day.

"It's tough!" she said. "I mean, I got 168,000 miles on my legs, which is probably a lot more than most people's car."

In June, Blanchard will run the Dipsea Race again for what she thinks will be her 39th time, continuing to blaze a trail for all the women following in her footsteps.

"I think I'm part of the trailblazing that goes on, especially for the Dipsea," Blanchard said. "We don't quit. We're going to keep going. We're going to be in your face and run this race as long as we can."

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