With the novelty waning for a 40 and over womens-only marathon and with the difficulty of a five lap course of Central Park... the number of women completing the 26.2 mile distance at the more Marathon was down to 173, less than 50% of the number of finishers in the inaugural year and down more than 30% from the 2005. But, despite the decrease in the size of the marathon field, the third edition of this event was, in our belief, the most successful and inspiring to date.
The weather was overcast and cool with bouts of drizzle, perfect running weather. Total participation in the combined marathon and half-marathon reached a new record with nearly 3,400 women running in a race - 173 masters women running in the marathon, 2,309 masters women running in the half-marathon and 903 younger women as part of the two-person half-marathon team competition.
The Competitive Race
Race organizers knew who the marathon competitors were going to be and it was obvious. Indeed, the top three finishers matched the numbers on their bibs - first place going to Susan Loken, wearing bib number 1; second place going to Doreen McCoubrie, wearing bib number 2; and third place going to Stephanie Hodge, wearing bib number 3. The competition played out exactly as expected, with few surprises - and with a field consisting only of women over 40, it would be hard for an unknown to appear to test the seeded runners.
At the starting gun, Susan Loken and Stephanie Hodge led the field and the two continued to run together through the first few miles before Loken, the strongest in the field broke away. Hodge continued in second place through approximately the 8 mile mark before being overtaken by McCoubrie. The race continued in that order through to the finish with Loken defending her title in a time of 2:50:01 (just missing an extra $500 time bonus had she been under 2:50), McCoubrie finishing second in 2:52:31 and Hodge finishing third in 2:57:33. Fourth place, never in contention for a podium position, was more than thirty minutes back at 3:28:03. Not the most exciting race, really, but an honest one.
Beyond the story of a competition - in which the winner did receive $2,500, a trip to Hawaii and a watch valued at $1,100 - the real story was the camaraderie and experience provided to the women's masters runners who descended on New York's Central Park for both the marathon and the half-marathon. During the weekend, the women were inspired by some of the greats of women's running: Lynn Jennings, Kathrine Switzer and Grete Waitz. Each of the women was also an inspiration to each other and to us - in an era when it is easy to use age an excuse to stop running, especially among women, we applaud this showing of the spirit of running.
Of the inspirational stories from the event - and there were many - we'd like to focus on the winner, Susan Loken. After her third child, and looking for a way to lose the weight from having children, Loken began running in earnest in her late 30s. Loken enlisted Brett Schumacher as her coach and ran a very respectable 2:51:17 at age 38 at the 2002 Grandma's Marathon in 2002. At 39, Loken improved her time to 2:44:19 at the fast Tucson to gain a qualifying time for the 2004 Olympic Trials, which she completed in 2:44:23. At 42, Loken became the US Masters Womens Marathon Champion at the Twin Cities Marathon, finishing as third woman and first masters woman in 2:43:10. And in January, Loken - still 42 - set her PR of 2:41:31 at the Rock N Roll Arizona Marathon.
Loken's future plans: continue running and continue getting faster with an upcoming goal of beating the Olympic Trials A-Qualifying standard of 2:39:59. Loken, always running with a smile, continues to push herself and improve through her 40s and will not let age affect her. She is the perfect example of the women and the spirit that the more Marathon is encouraging. We may not all be able to run as well as Susan Loken, but we should take inspiration from her spirit and achievements.
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Doreen McCoubrie (left) and Susan Loken (right) before the start
Loken (center), Hodge (right) and McCoubrie (left) lead the field at the start
Kathrine Switzer with a California Raisin
Susan Loken and Stephanie Hodge leading
Lynn Jennings and Grete Waitz
Susan Loken (center) with John Walters (left) and coach Brett Schumacher