PROFILE--In her 50 years of running, Mary Etta Boitano Blanchard has done it all

(Sept. 2019) Fifty-six year old Mary Etta Boitano Blanchard has had one of the most amazing and distinguished running careers in the world. She finished her first marathon as a 6-yr old in 1969, and still holds the world best marathon times for a 6-yr old and 7-yr-old (4:27:32 and 3:57:42), according to the Association of Road Race Statisticians. By the age of 9, she had improved to a 3:01:15. Despite the early start, Blanchard has never lost her appreciation for running. She's still logging 40+ miles a week, and has run a 1:52 half marathon this year. "I run because it is a healthy choice for me," she says.

Career/profession: I am a retired RN who worked in a hospital on a medical surgical floor in SF. Currently, I share most of my time with my 96 year old momma, who loves to garden and take walks, my husband, Richard, my sons, Johnny and RB, and dogs, Gozer, Sweet Pea, & Speedy. 

When did you start running and why? I started running with my family in the summer 1967, in San Francisco. We started running because
my father’s doctor told him that exercise would be good for his health and that he would live longer and healthier. (My father had smoked for 25 years.) My father also had read that running was one of the best exercises you could do for the heart, and he wanted an activity the whole family could do together.

We started running around the neighborhood at first, and then later would hop in the car and go to different places to run. People would see us running around various places in San Francisco, and try and stop my father to ask questions. They were very curious what we were running from and why we were out there. Some would ask us if we needed a ride. On one occasion my mother got hit with tomatoes and me with eggs. That was frightening. 
On the cover of Runner's World
in her early road racing years.

My family started the DSE runners along with Walt Stack in the late 60’s.  Later, in the early 70’s, my parents started the PAMAKIDS running club. It was a running club for PA-MA- and KIDs. We would meet at Lake Merced, in Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, or at the beach, and then head over to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor or Round Table Pizza for dinner. I loved the pizza and the arcade games. It was fun, and we made many friends. We couldn't get enough of running, food, and meeting new people.

My parents, John & Mary Lucille, and my brother Mike and I ran roughly 50 marathons and hundreds of road races.

How much did you run in your peak years? When training for marathons, we would run anywhere between 40-75 miles a week.

What were some of your top races and achievements? I won Bay to Breakers three times (1974, 1975, & 1976) and once unofficially, in 1969. I was the Dipsea winner in 1973. I placed fourth in the 1974 Women's National Marathon Championships. I was an age-group record holder in the marathon for ages 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

Any estimate of your total lifetime running miles? About 145,000.

The 2018 Dipsea start, with her two sons.
How much are you running and cross-training now? 
I run about 40-55 miles a week now. I also do some cross training for 7 hours a week on the elliptical. I run hills almost every day. I probably need to stretch more. Being stiff is no fun.

Any recent races? I am a bit of a turtle these days but here are a couple. I ran the 2019 Carneros Half Marathon Napa to Sonoma in 1:52:51 and the 2019 Dipsea in 1:20:01.

Does it bother you that you are slower now? Honestly I knew the day was coming, and I had to embrace it. I have watched my parents evolve from being speedy runners into walkers. My father used a cane and then a walker later in his years. But a few years before he passed away, he and my mom were still going out and walking a five mile loop daily. He passed away in 2012, at the age of 91. However, my mother is still going strong at 96. She walks unaided about 30 mins a day which inspires me to no end. She is strong and healthy. I hope to be like her at her age. She is a task master and nothing stops her. She is feisty and kind--two traits I love the most about her.

My brother, Mike, and I are still running, but our workouts are not really about training. The workouts are more about preserving what we have and maintaining our health. We love to reminisce which is bittersweet for us. We recently ran part of a half marathon and we talked and laughed the whole way. We exercise to take care of our bodies because we are accountable to each other. Our bodies are our temples. We sweat. We eat right. It is our recipe to living a good long life. I want to do what I can to be around for my family.

Any diet or weight changes? Supplements? I am not perfect, but I try and eat as clean as I can. I do not drink alcohol, smoke, or take drugs. Surprisingly, I have never been a big fan of vegetables either, but I eat them because I know they are good for me. I am a meat eater mainly. I love fruits, nuts, and some grains. I limit how much I eat, which keeps my weight in check. My weight has been stable since the start of puberty. It fluctuates 5-13 pounds about 112-125. I am almost 5’5. I try and get fiber, a multi-vitamin, probiotics, and Vit D in my daily diet. I wear loads of sunscreen with SPF 50 to protect my skin.

Injuries or health issues? I have had an occasional Achilles tendinitis on and off for 20 years. I do exercises to strengthen the area and RICE to treat besides the occasional Tylenol. My joints (knees and hips) are intact. I have no evidence of arthritis. I got lucky with the right genes.I am fortunate to be healthy and happy. I am so grateful for that. I thank my parents every day for guiding me and my brother in the right direction of a healthy life.

A favorite quote or two? My friend and fellow runner  "The Dipsea Demon- Jack Kirk” would say “ Old Runners never die. They just reach the 672 Dipsea step."
An early road race finish.
Jack was 96 years young on his last Dipsea. Jack has the world record for consecutive races at 67 consecutive races. He was a 2-time winner of the Dipsea Race. He passed away at the age of 100 in 2007. He has always been such an inspirational athlete to me and my family. RIP Jack.

"Baby you were born to run."  Bruce Springsteen. That song speaks to me.

And I love the quote by Pre. “You probably chose cross-country because you were too small for football."

Three tips for hopeful lifetime runners?
1.  Just do it. In no time, you will develop a love for the sport like I did.
2.  Get your shoes on. Putting your shoes on is the hardest part. Sometimes your mind and your body say no. Once you get your shoes on and get out your door, you can do anything you want. You are free.
3.  Find a running buddy. Run with them, talk, laugh, cry, and solve the world’s biggest problems before finishing your workout.

How does running & fitness improve your life on a daily and weekly basis? I run because it is a healthy choice for me. Running is much like therapy. It clears my mind from negative thoughts. I get my ya-ya's out and feel great. The exercise also revs up my metabolism and gives me energy to do more tasks during the day. When I move my body, I increase my heart rate which stimulates the production of endorphins into my bloodstream. These are very powerful chemicals produced by the pituitary and they are probably one of the reasons why I got hooked on running. I feel very relaxed and happy after my run and ready to face the challenges of life.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from running? The biggest lesson is always to be safe out there. Wear a comfortable pair of shoes. Lace them up good. Wear a bright top so cars and bikes can see you. Take tangents, but avoid blind corners on the roads. Run with a buddy or your dog. 

And one lesson that addresses training. Run shorter races (like sprints to 2km) while in your youth since you may possess the short twitch muscles. Save the longer races (12km to ultra marathon) for when you are older so you can use the long twitch muscles. I did the reverse which was okay for me, but I do not recommend it. 

My philosophy of life is to enjoy what you do. Pursue life with vigor and if all else fails, RUN!!