Dr Joan Ullyot, whose running accomplishments and medical expertise made her a major pioneer in women’s running, died on June 18 at her home in Snowmass Village, near Aspen, in Colorado. She was 80 years old. The cause was a heart attack.
Ullyot’s book, Running For Women, published in 1976, was the world’s first on the subject, and she was a leader as a writer, lecturer, medical scientist, activist and role model for all women who start running relatively late in life, in her case at 30 years.
Growing up in Pasadena, California, Ullyot attended Wellesley College, but at that time she wasn’t interested in running as she never bothered to watch the Boston Marathon unfold. A talented linguist, she aspired to foreign service, until she learned that female diplomats were not allowed to marry. Switching to medicine, she attended the Free University of Berlin and entered Harvard Medical School, becoming one of its first female graduates.
She got a scholarship in cell pathology at the University of California, married and had two sons, before becoming unhappy with her 30-year-old body.
“I was the ultimate cream puff. If I could become an athlete, anyone could do it, ”she reportedly said in Current encyclopedia.
She gave credit for venturing into the race for Dr Kenneth Cooper’s seminal book Aerobic, and with the help of the family’s black lab, which towed her to the local hill during her first experimental trials, as she told Gary Cohen in a lengthy interview in 2017.
Her first race was the iconic Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, and within months she had run her first marathon, placing 13th in Boston in 1974, only the third time the race has been officially open to women. Soon Ullyot began to apply her varied intellectual skills and great energy to the whole new field of women’s running.
In two years, she won races like Lilac Bloomsday in Spokane and Hospital Hill Run in Kansas City, representing the United States as a marathoner and performer at the Women’s International Marathons in Waldniel, Germany, writing articles and columns for The world of runners and Sport and fitness for women, and traveling the world as a revolutionary speaker.
“I spoke across the country on the same post as George Sheehan and Joe Henderson. It was a lot of fun, ”she said in Cohen’s interview.
Absorbed by this new area of knowledge, she shifted her medical specialty from pathology to exercise physiology. In 1976, just three years after taking her first steps in running, she had researched and published Women’s running with the Global Publications division of The world of runners.
She sold the idea to editor Joe Henderson to answer the many questions she received, as The world of runners columnist, new runners. The book was a bestseller, and she followed up with Run for free (1980; her own story plus profiles of runners such as Sister Marion Irvine) and The new running for women (1984).
Ullyot’s own run continued to progress, as she followed Arthur Lydiard’s training principles with guidance from American marathoner Ron Daws. She raced Boston 10 times, winning the Masters race in 1984, at age 43, with a time of 2:54:17. She won 10 marathons and eventually beat 2:50 at 48, with her personal best 2:47:39 on the time-honored St. George Marathon course.
She chose her races like her wines, with Catholic enthusiasm, and was a staunch supporter of San Francisco’s local Dolpin South End Runners (DSE) events, enthusiastically seizing international opportunities with the Avon Circuit and extending her active career through ultraracing.
Her medical status made her a prominent advocate for women’s long-distance running during the years of lobbying and protest that ultimately led to the inclusion of all women’s events in the Olympics.
“Her research was presented to the International Olympic Committee by the Los Angeles Olympic Committee ahead of the vote to include the women’s marathon in the 1984 Games,” former world record holder Jacqueline Hansen said in an online tribute this week . This credit is also given in the citation for Ullyot’s induction into the Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame in 2019.
Ullyot and her second husband, scientist Charles Becker, moved in the early 1990s to Snowmass. She coached the Aspen Runners Club for about 10 years starting in 1993 and kept fit by cycling until a near fatal accident. In her later years, she focused on walking.
Many tributes this week recalled his great intelligence and his joie de vivre.
“In the weeks leading up to her unexpected death, Joan was typically very energetic and had a blast,” her son Ted Ullyot wrote.
“In the 1970s, as we all worked to shatter the myths that kept women from running, Joan was our medical beacon, a fiery example of transformation from zero to 2:47 marathon, and an unstoppable, larger than life personality. , opinionated at the top of her mighty lungs, and with an unwavering appetite for pleasure and an ability for wine, ”said Kathrine Switzer.
Ullyot also supported his lifelong dedication to travel, reading and friendships. These included many of her competitors and collaborators in the 1970s and 1980s when their pioneering generation created, championed, championed and left strong the visionary new sport of women’s road racing.
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