A weeknight race, on Toronto Island, at sunset, with a barbeque, unique distance and an incredible view of the city. Longboat's Sunset Shuffle is DEFINITELY one of Toronto's best not-so-secret races! Thanks Leanne for keeping me on track!
What is a master? I didn't know either. The first time I heard the term was back when I used to design a program calendar for an athletic club, and referred to a group of swimmers. I wasn't sure if this meant they were elite? That they had progressed to a masters level like some sort of swimming apprenticeship? I did notice that some of the members of this group were older, but it never dawned on me that age was what defined the masters category!
Running World Magazine describes masters running as the following: "Masters running encompasses all runners age 40 (in Ontario it is 30) and over. There’s great variety within the ranks of masters runners—some have already been running for decades, some are new runners who happen to be 40 or older, and some ran earlier in life and have returned after years away from the sport.(...) Age grading, which compares race times at a given age to an equivalent performance by runners under the age of 40, helps many masters runners measure their competitive success. Another common, successful approach to masters running is to shift focus, such as concentrating on shorter or longer races than you did in your relative youth."
At the start of my year of trying new things in running, I became a member of Ontario Masters Athletics. I was definitely in the category of what the above definition calls new! I am also not super-speedy, but, looking back, I'm glad I didn't let this fact deter me.
As a member of the OMA, I could participate in year-round events including indoor track and field, a road race series that piggy-backed onto races of varying distances, outdoor track championships and cross country. I jumped in with both feet and attended all but one of the indoor track meets as well as the Ontario and Canadian Indoor Championships.
I tried three distances on the track, 600, 800 and 1500 meters, finding I quite enjoyed the 800 distance. I even received a medal in the indoor Championships as part of my age category.
Masters running is broken down into 5-year age categories to level the playing field somewhat. Depending on the meet, you are seeded with men and women with a similar pace range (this was generally the case for the mini-meets / practice meets early in the season) to add that spark of competition, or with your gender and within an age range (eg: 30-49 (this is for the Championship races). So although my actual races may have a field of people both younger and older than me, when it comes down to results, I was really only 'competing' against other women that happened to be in the same age category. This narrower field creates many different little competitions throughout every single meet so while you are competing against yourself in trying improve your finish time, you may also be battling it out for a 1st, 2nd or 3rd placing with a handful of others!
Just like with other parts of running, I found there was a learning curve (pardon the pun...track...oval...curve) involved with both masters races and how to participate in a track race in general. When I arrived to my first race I had no clue as to procedures such as where to stand, where to run, let alone how to pace myself. The mini-meets at the beginning of the season were great for learning these things in a supportive environment. Throughout those meets I learned about waterfall start, what ready, set, go meant and where you were actually supposed to go for each. Pacing, like every other kind of running, takes a bit longer to sort out! Having been used to much longer races, it is a hard concept to accept that your race will be done in a handful of minutes. It's easy to think, ah, I'll be able to sprint at top speed for two laps around the track. Until you try it. Track races hurt like no other race I have ever done, but it is short, intense pain and if you can just hang on and hold your speed, you will eventually cross the finish line, hopefully with a faster result than the time before.
The indoor track season stretched through the cold, snowy, dark days of January to March. I managed my best 800 meter time ever at the Canadian Indoor Masters Championships. I also participated in five of the road race series races and managed to get medals in each for my age category!
This month saw the end of the track season with the Ontario Masters Championships held at Varsity Stadium and the North and Central America and Caribbean Region of World Masters Athletics Championships held at the York Stadium (this is where the 2015 Pan Am Games were held!) Given the break between the indoor and outdoor seasons, I was a little hesitant to register for these events. I registered for the Ontario competition but after looking at past race results and the participants registered for the larger event, I felt I was probably out of my league!
I was definitely nervous upon arriving at Varsity Stadium on the morning of the Ontario Championships. The stadium was enormous! I'm was used to racing at the quaint York University indoor 200 meter track or dodging day camp kids on Monarch Park's track, which is 370 meters with only four lanes. Varsity is a full eight lanes with extra borders, a full football field and a huge stadium of seats. Even my 3K warm up felt like it took forever to get around the track with each loop.
We were lucky and grateful to have Lisa, Leanne and Ben as spectators and cheerleaders. I must say that I am so thankful to Michelle for her continued support during my track training season. The fact that she is competing at every race I am has made it so much easier to learn and feel comfortable. I've thoroughly enjoyed this journey with her this past season.
Due to the age divisions, I wound up being in the same heat and starting right beside Michelle. The start photo (3rd photo down) is one of my favourite race photos ever. The start of the race when everything is possible, we are all in a pack, edging toward the inner lane.
Check out the board!
The course was hot and windy. I watched Michelle take off and continue to get further away (this is one of my favourite spots to watch her race as I realize how fast she is going!) I managed to do my first 400 in the time Michelle had suggested and just had to hang on for the second lap. There were cheers as I went, from Lisa, Leanne, Ben and random strangers. I made it across the line with a very slightly slower result than my previous 800s, but given it was my first outdoor track race and I was dealing with wind and heat, I was happy! I also received a silver medal in my age category. It was a great morning and a great season of racing for me!
The season for most of the masters runners was not yet over though. The North and Central America and Caribbean Region of World Masters Athletics Championships were just one week away.
I was able to attend the Friday 1500 meter race and see Michelle, Jen St. Jean (who is from the US and I got to meet at the NY 5th Avenue Mile). These two ladies, along a couple others have been huge inspirations to me as a female runner starting out later in life. On social media Jen often uses the hashtag #fasterasamaster which I adore. And she has been working towards that exact goal. Typically it's thought that runners race times become slower as they age. I love that Jen is trying to break that belief.
This was an incredible race and I am actually glad I wasn't running it as I would have missed out on watching! After a delay, a starter's pistol that didn't work, lightning that appeared just as they were about to start thus delaying the race and then finish times that were off by a good chunk, there was lots of drama to be felt by the racers!
In the end Michelle walked away with a PB and two medals, Jen got a gold medal and my other running friends Nancy and Joanne did an amazing job.
I so enjoyed celebrating and snapping photos of everyone. Afterward as everyone gathered around chatting I found myself absorbing even more information about this niche of running. While the basic premise is the same, there are so many differences on the track. I have really enjoyed learning more about them.
And as for faster as a master? I have the benefit of having never run in my youth, so my learning and training should really help me stay faster--at least for awhile!
This post has been in my drafts for months. I will post it and let the awesomeness of the photos speak for the day!
The third 5 Peaks Ontario race saw me travelling to Albion Hills conservation area. This race was the longest yet at 6.5K. Rain threatened and sprinkled on occasion all morning and we'd wound up wishing it would just happen as it was SO steamy.
Allison, Kate and Maria were all doing their first trail races. And since I was an expert now (bahahaha!) I gave them some tips (basically that was bring a chair for the finish!)
The route itself was incredibly twisty with little rollercoaster hills up and down. A few harder climbs too. Nothing like the big climb at Rattlesnake, but I wound up finding this race to be the harder of the two. (Terra Cotta was in it's own category considering the 6" mud! and fact that it was the first ever).
At the end of the race my Garmin reported the workout had been 'overreaching' which I'd never seen and have yet to again. I welcomed the slightly easier pace Lisa, Leanne and I took with Allison, but still felt this one more than the others.
Ahead of us, Michelle was running with Maria (who went on to get an age category win!) and Kate who had a bit of a different take on trail racing (uhm, we're trying to change that!).
After the race we recovered in a cozy circle of chairs (practicing for Ragnar Cottage Country) eating our fishy crackers and fizzy water until the games, awards and prizes were given out.
Another awesome morning thanks to 5 Peaks!
(Thanks to Leanne and Sue for the amazing shots, some of which I borrowed below)
Congrats Michelle, Gemma and Maria!
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