Athenas battled weather before achieving WR 4×4 goal at Millrose

Athena WR-setters, left to right, are left to right. Joan Hunter, Julie Hayden, Lorraine Jasper, Debbie Deutsch Hoffman.

WR-setters (from left) are Joan Hunter, Julie Hayden, Lorraine Jasper and Debbie Hoffman.

So you think setting a relay world record is hard? Try doing it after facing the Polar Vortex. Weather issues were a major hurdle for the Athenas shooting for a 4×4 record at Millrose last Saturday, we learn from team member Julie Hayden. Also due admiration is Chuck Shields. He videotaped the Athenas setting the W50 world indoor record. It helped establish the splits in their 4:26.18. Debbie Hoffman led off with an announced 65.49, followed by Lorraine Jasper’s 67+, Julie Hayden’s 69+ and Joan Hunter’s 64+. Chuck apologizes for messing up at the end of Joan’s leg, since “somebody at trackside bumped into me.” All is forgiven, Chuck. Meanwhile, Julie and Joan replied to my shameless questions, revealing how they just managed to assemble at the Armory starting line.

Julie writes:

Once we had established who was available for the meet, we made the decision to run two W50 teams, with the A Team attempting to lower the W50 record that we set at Millrose with Cheryl [Bellaire] two years ago. … Debbie was happy to fly in from California and Joan Hunter was now a W50.

That said, it really took a whole series of good fortune for us to pull it off. Debbie was due to fly in on Thursday, arriving in the middle of the East Coast snow storm. Amazingly, she was able to get on a flight a day earlier and arrive ahead of it. A great move, since her original flight was canceled!

The weather was potentially a challenge for the rest of us too. We all got about 14 inches of snow this time around, and Lorraine and Joan live out in the country. Luckily, we all made it to New Jersey by Friday night with 6 of the 8 runners, plus our supersub and manager/coach Charmaine Roberts staying at Wendi Glassman’s house.

Much of the evening was spent taking turns to recover from work or travel, or both, by trying out the Dr. Life Leg Therapy Systems owned by Besty Stewart and I. An interesting Valentine’s evening for our chef and host, Paul Weinstein!

More potential hazards lay ahead on Saturday morning with snow in the forecast, but we narrowly escaped a major highway standstill and got into the Armory itself as the first flakes began to fall. Once checked in, we had about 40 minutes to warm up on the track before the meet started. This was a treat compared with Madison Square Gardens, or Franklin Field for Penn, when we the athletes don’t get any track time before running, but as they say, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Things continued to go well as Joan Hunter didn’t give us the thumbs down, regarding various foot problems that have meant she could barely train and have two “one and done” race experiences in recent weeks. At least Charmaine got to do a workout on the Armory track, and relive some good memories.

Still, based on the fact that we weren’t 100 percent sure of her finishing, Joan was an automatic selection for the anchor leg. As the sprinter of the group, Debbie is usually the number one choice to start for our teams; that left Lorraine and I to run the midsections.

We all had a pretty good idea of our current form and knew where we hoped to be at each handoff. Being realistic, we wanted to be close to 3:20 at the final exchange. … Lorraine had to avoid the Mass Velocity M60 first leg runner, after they handed off, just ahead of us, but it inspired her to run their second leg guy down and maintain our lead in the women’s race.

The “man in red” got me back on the third leg, but I had no idea what was going on behind me and just ran as hard as my little legs would take me, knowing there must be a target on my back. Luckily, no monkey, or piano on this occasion.

I think Joan got the baton at about 3:22. … Personally, I will be happy for a sub-70, as that’s what I’ve been chasing this season and hope to get, with a rolling start and off the fast Armory track.

The trackside clock stopped when the first man, Tony Plaster?, crossed the line. The scoreboard then proceded to display every single team’s final time but ours. After what seemed an eternity, but was probably only a few seconds, the 4:26 came up and I started celebrating and the announcer, Ian Brooks, declared it a new W50 world record. I was actually supporting Joan Hunter’s weight at the time, as she was pretty exhausted from her effort.

We were about to find a cell phone for a picture with our B Team, when we were invited into a little room for an interview. I was (half) jokingly saying, “Dan O’Brien, Dan O’Brien” and thinking back to a few years ago at MSG, where were interviewed live center track by Dan, and Jane Brooker was starry eyed!

This time Doug Binder from Runnerspace asked the questions. (See the interview here.) While the interview was being conducted, Charmaine was snapping pictures, my favorite of which is included.

Once our five minutes of fame was over, we picked up our warmup gear from the ground floor and bundled up for a cooldown run in the streets outside. Debbie, Joan and I all just ran a couple of laps around the block, while Lorraine, Wendi, Betsy, Kathy Haubrich and Mary Swan stayed out for longer.

After stretching, we picked up our medals and headed back to our base on the back straight to enjoy watching the pros in action. Charmaine attempted to take care of the [record] paperwork for us, but in the end, the officials were all too busy to stop and sign the record application, so we left it with Adam Sandford from the Games Committee to forward to Sandy Pashkin. Adam pulled this off two years ago, so I am optimistic that he will come through again.

Cheryl [with the previous Athena record team] was not at the meet. She is recovering from a knee injury and hopes to be back in the spring as a W55. Several of our W40s, including Gaby Grebski and Maryline Roux weren’t available for this meet, hence the focus on W50. Also, we are getting older as a team in general.

Joan Hunter, Marisa Sutera Strange and Terri Rath are all new W50s this year and Jane Brooker and Beth Shisler will join the age group in the summer. With Kathleen Shook, Terri Cassel and Mary Grene also all 50, and Coreen Steinbech in her 60s, we have great depth.

We were treated very well by everyone related to Millrose from start to finish. Devon Martin does a great job with providing information and is a pleasure to work with. I had let her know that we were hoping to break the record and I believe that she had shared this, as we were asked some pertinent questions prior to the race.

Ian Brooks did a very nice job of getting the crowd excited for the masters races and, just like Peter Taylor, he kept the audience informed of how things were unfolding. I know that despite the challenges, we were all enthusiastic to run on the Armory track and in such a prestigious event and appreciated the opportunity. As far as I remember, this year was the first time that we paid to enter — $25 per team, plus a small online administration fee, but cheap at the price!

Other than hugging each other, taking photos and sharing the news with our Athena teammates, family and friends, I can’t say we celebrated immediately. After a while, some of our club mates left and Charmaine, Joan and I settled in to watch the action with Maurel Walles.

I was excited to see one of my former high school runners representing New York University in the college 4x800M and Joan especially wanted to take in Alan Webb’s final professional race. We both got nice hugs and exchanged a few words with “our” boys. Just before we left, Joan caught up with Alan’s parents and brother Chris, and the icing on the cake was Nick Symmonds inviting us to be photographed with him, instead of just taking his picture.

Joan Hunter writes:

Not sure we really had a race plan other than to get the record, which on paper was do-able. Personally, I was concerned I might not be able to pull my weight as I have been dealing with an injured foot for weeks now and my training over the last 2 weeks was very minimal and nothing really fast at all.

I was just hoping I could get around the track twice, reasonably quickly!

As for celebrating — not so much! For me, just getting away for a night and a day with my Athena teammates and getting to spend it watching great runners is a treat! We hung out afterwards, watched the races (well, some of us had to leave but Julie and I stayed until after the Wanamaker mile), got our picture taken with Nick Symmonds, chatted with Alan Webb’s parents and brother, Chris (did you know my husband and I were his first XC and track coaches when he was in ninth grade?) So [Saturday] was kind of bittersweet for me.

I saw his first race many years ago, and I saw his last race. Only got to chat with Alan for about 10 seconds while he ran around the track after his race because he was in the press room forever, after the race, and we had to hit the road for the long trek back to Virginia.

My son (who is turning into quite a runner himself) was bummed because I didn’t get a picture with him, but was reasonably consoled when he saw our pic with Nick!

That’s about it from me. My season is over, sadly. I have to let my foot get better. I was really hoping to go for an indoor age group record in the 800 this season, but it will have to wait.

Joan Hunter and  Julie Hayden say posing with world silver 800 medalist Nick Symmonds made their day.

Joan Hunter and Julie Hayden say posing with world 800 silver medalist Nick Symmonds made their day at Millrose (besides setting a WR).

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February 18, 2014

5 Responses

  1. ncberra - February 19, 2014

    congratulations ladies – you guys looked great out there (and ran pretty fast too)!

  2. Bill, Kaspari - February 19, 2014

    Ken – the lead-off lady in the W50 4 x 400 relay WR team was Debbie Deutsch Hoffman (not Hunter).

    Truly outstanding effort by these ladies. Awesome!

  3. Ken Stone - February 19, 2014

    Thanks, Bill. I made the fix.

  4. Terry Ballou - February 20, 2014

    Congrats, ladies, on a great run. Fantastic time and an inspiration to us all!

  5. Kat Mengistu - February 21, 2014

    Congratulations ladies! This is truly inspiring!

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