Canadian 4×8 team sets indoor W50 world record after predicting it
Our moles report: “Team Canada Women 50 broke the World Record in the 4X800 Relay at the first day of the Canadian Masters Indoor Championships in Toronto, running 10:32.66. That broke the existing USA record of 10:38.97 set last year. Pictures will be posted by Doug Smith on ontariomastersathletics.ca soon!” Actually, Doug posted the shot below on his Facebook page. The team is Donna Dixon of Calgary (50), Karen Gold of Toronto (50), Laurie Meloche of Regina (51) and Patty Blanchard of Moncton (55). Moreover, a great newspaper article a couple days earlier telegraphed the WR attempt.
Here’s the excellent piece written by Kerry Gillespie:
When Karen Gold first stepped on the running track at York University, she turned a lot of heads. The other athletes talked about her, but not to her. She was, most obviously, not one of them.
âI got to the track,â recalls the Toronto marketing executive, âand these elite athletes kind of looked at me like âwhat is that mother doing on the track?â
That thought crossed her mind on occasion, too. Starting to run track for the first time within sight of a 50th birthday isnât exactly the normal course of events.She is part of a small but dedicated group who compete in masters athletics (track and field) for those 30 to 90-plus years of age.
âI felt slow,â says Gold of her first few months on the track in late 2011. âBut I didnât give up.â
Saturday, Gold and three teammates hope to set a world record in the 4x800m womenâs relay, 50-59 age category. Theyâre racing at the Canadian Masters Athletics Indoor Track and Field Championships, March 16-17.
The current record, held by an American team, is 10:38.97. To put that in perspective, itâs a fair bit slower than the Canadian university championship record of 8:41.66 but it still amounts to running a little over a 3 minute kilometer â a pace few can muster at any age.
But Gold, Calgaryâs Donna Dixon, 50, Reginaâs Laurie Meloche, 51, and Monctonâs Patty Blanchard, 55, on paper anyway, can run it. But nothing is ever certain in sports. And, as one runner points out, to have four of them turn up healthy, at this stage in their lives, is already a minor miracle.
To break the record, they have to average 2:39 a leg. Thatâs a time Gold couldnât run at 49 when she started track. But now, at 50, she can.
âItâs shown me you can really improve at any age and get faster if you stick with it,â says Gold who figure skated as a youngster and ran marathons after turning 40.
Sheâs unlikely to see improvements on the track for much longer. Her relay teammates who all ran seriously as high school or university athletes arenât getting faster. Theyâre getting slower. Thatâs a fact of life with older runners, especially those competing in short distances. The human bodyâs ability to build and maintain muscle declines with age.
âI wonât lie,â says Meloche. âItâs disappointing to see the times go up. But thereâs nothing you can do about it. Thatâs just the reality of how the body works.â
Meloche, an elementary school teacher and mother of two, had an 800m personal best of â2:20-somethingâ in high school. Now, itâs 2:37.
Accepting that inevitable decline is easier for some than others.
Continuing to train hard for times that only get worse is a âchallenging mindsetâ says Paul Osland, who ran for Canada in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. In addition to being a regular masters competitor, heâs also the volunteer president of Canadian Masters Athletics.
âThatâs why a lot of very competitive runners donât run in their older age. Either theyâre totally burnt out . . . or their ego canât take that theyâre running a lot slower.â
The vast majority of masters athletes â there are 1,500 of them across Canada â are people whoâve come to the sport later in life or were a rung or two below Olympic status in their best days, Osland says.
Itâs similar to a road race. âThe top 50 people are way up there and then youâve got 3,000 behind.â
Masters track, though, is a tiny subset of the growing movement of older people deciding to run anything from 5K charity races to full marathons. The world championships (theyâre in Brazil this year) can attract as many as 10,000 competitors, but the Canadian indoor championships will have about 250, says Osland.
There are no entry standards for masters events. Anybody who wants to leap over hurdles or triple jump their way into a sandpit can. But that doesnât mean people are sauntering across finish lines. A masters meet is social and welcoming but once the starterâs pistol goes off, the competitive drive they all share comes alive.
âYou stand on that starting line again and itâs intense. You think âwhat am I doing here againâ but once you get into the race youâre fine,â says Dixon, who trains four or five times a week.
âThere are people with serious goals for themselves despite the fact that weâre getting older and a little slower.â
Dixon, a corporate lawyer, started running track at A.Y. Jackson High School in North York. She finally hung up her cleats after graduating from University of Torontoâs law school.
She discovered masters athletics after her second child was born. The timing couldnât have been better. âIt was my goal to get back in shape and see what I could do.â
Her 15-year-old daughter inherited her passion for the sport. âShe runs similar to me, but sheâd probably hate to hear me say that.â Her 17-year-old son prefers hockey and soccer. âHe thinks us runners are kind of weird.â
Relays are Dixonâs favourite. âI couldnât set a world record on my own but if you put a team together itâs possible.â
The teamâs undisputed star is their oldest member, the 55-year-old Blanchard. Her 800m personal best of 2:07 still stands as a New Brunswick record.
That time is now a distant but fond memory for the school teacher. As a 50-year-old she set a new indoor world record of 2:25. âNow Iâm a lot slower,â Blanchard says. The fastest I went last summer was 2:35.â
That kind of time could give the relay team a 4 second cushion.
âIâve run all my life, everything from 800m to half marathons,â says Blanchard, who represented Canada on cross country teams at events in Japan, China, Spain and Madagascar.
Gold doesnât have that kind of experience; sheâs never even passed a baton before, but sheâs certain her âA-type personalityâ honed over a lifetime in business will see her through.
âI donât think I could do anything now without being competitive. I canât play a game of monopoly without being competitive.â
So far, her mind over matter attitude has paid off on the track with improved times and respect.
The young elites on the track, who once stared her down, talk to her now. âI was like âoh my god, sheâs talking to me,ââ says Gold, recalling the day an Olympic-potential 100-metre Olympic sprinter sought her out.
Gold knew then she must be doing something right.