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!
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.
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.
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!